Christ invites us to the kingdom
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 13, 2002
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
The Roman army invaded the city of Jerusalem in the year 70 to put down a Jewish revolt against Roman rule. The Sadducees were slaughtered. The Essenes were eliminated. The emperor Titus raided the Temple, hauled away its precious treasures and leveled the building to the ground. All that remains of the Temple today is its Western Wall. The terrorists who destroyed that holy shrine committed a crime that devastated people's psyche, as the destruction of the World Trade Center has devastated our generation. It was unthinkable. But it happened.
Scripture scholars believe Matthew's Gospel was composed about 10 to 15 years after that awful event. In some details the writer seems to reflect the heaviness people felt after the destruction of the temple. It helped them to remember that Jesus had predicted the fall of Jerusalem. It gave them hope that other things Jesus predicted - like eternal glory - would also come to pass.
Next Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 22: 1-14) includes a sentence that probably alludes to the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple. It is one of the reasons scholars date the entire Gospel to the years 80-85. Jesus may have told the parable this way, but the destruction of the temple may have influenced the way the evangelist remembered the story.
This is a wild parable about a wedding gone really wrong. A king prepares a wedding banquet for his son. Invitations have gone out, but now that the banquet is ready, many friends are refusing to come, and some of them kill the servants delivering the invitations. The king summons others to the dinner. The hall fills with bad and good guests alike, one of whom is thrown out for being improperly dressed.
Jesus summarizes the parable succinctly: Many are invited, but few are chosen. He could have expanded the summary this way: Many are invited and some do not accept. Of those who accept, only some are chosen.
Notice the violence in this story. Among the first group refusing the invitation, some people go back to work, but others don't. They act out a nightmare that goes beyond the psychotic fantasies of those fed up with telemarketers, junk mail and electronic viruses. Disturbed by the servants inviting them to the wedding banquet, the ungrateful invitees seize the messengers, mistreat them and kill them. The king is so infuriated that he sends his troops to destroy the murderers and burn their city.
That little reference to the burnt city is filled with meaning. Jesus tells this parable during the last week of his life in the presence of his enemies while standing in the city of Jerusalem. In this city God has extended an invitation to one generation after another in hopes of sustaining the covenant with Israel. In this city prophets were maltreated. In this city the Roman army would soon muster troops to change forever the political map, a scant 40 years after the death of Jesus. The writer of Matthew's Gospel, fully aware of the horror that befell Jerusalem, probably referenced the burnt city in the parable to show Jesus' foreknowledge of Jerusalem's sorry fate, and to ratchet up the seriousness of the story's message.
This parable reaches back in history, yet forward in time. Jesus looks back at the way God continually sent prophets to invite ancient Israel to the rewards promised those faithful to the covenant. Some of those prophets lost their lives while extending God's invitation.
The parable also looks forward because it shows Jesus inviting future disciples to the kingdom. Some refuse to listen, but he invites others. Jesus cast the scribes and Pharisees as the ungrateful invitees of the parable. Over their heads God would open the kingdom to those never before considered eligible.
Most of us hear this parable with glee. Jesus invites us to enter the wedding banquet of eternal life. Some of those who refused to enter suffered personal loss in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. But those who accept Christ have hope of eternal glory, living happily ever after.
However, the parable's final, ominous detail restrains our glee. One who accepted the invitation was thrown out for dressing improperly. The king calls him by the same title Jesus will use when he addresses Judas in the garden of Gethsemane: "Friend" (Matthew 26:50). Just because we accept the invitation doesn't mean we can go in. Jesus expects us to be disciples through and through.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish, Cameron.