Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
As we approach the end of yet another liturgical year, our Scripture readings once again begin to point us in the direction of the second coming of Christ, commonly referred to as the "eschaton," the "parousia," or even "the end of the world." There are several different images which the sacred writers use to capture this point of history. Sometimes the prophets refer to the "Day of the Lord," as a fearful time accompanied by natural disasters such as earthquakes and wild fires. Celestial omens that signal the coming of the Lord include the stars falling from their place in the heavens and the darkening of the sun and moon. These images come to us from a particular group of apocalyptic writers who had become convinced that the world had become so corrupt that it was no longer possible for God to return to it without first cleansing it, visiting it with great travail. Others looked at this particular event and compared it to a woman giving birth, a natural event which was inevitably painful.
The image employed by Isaiah and Matthew today, however, comes from yet another group of writers who employ the image of a great banquet or feast as the setting for the coming of the Lord. Those of us who have attended Catholic funerals will recognize the reading from the Prophet Isaiah immediately as one that is often used in the Rite of Christian Burial. The people are gathered up to God's holy mountain and seated at a great feast of rich, juicy food and choice wines. In order to truly appreciate this image, we must remember that the people of this particular moment in history subsisted on unleavened bread and dry, salted meat, much like our "beef jerky." Because they lacked refrigeration, the only way to preserve food was to dry it out and heavily salt it in order to preserve it for future use. A juicy steak was not part of their menu. The same is true of their wine. Wine was strong and vinegary. They usually cut it with an equal amount of water in order to make it palatable. So a banquet of rich, juicy food and choice wine would be a "dream come true" for this nomadic, desert people.
Matthew invites the people from the roads and main thoroughfares to a banquet given by a king for his son's wedding. Again, let us remember that most people, even today, rarely dine with royalty. To be invited to a royal banquet is still out of the reach of the vast majority of us. Matthew's vision of the heavenly banquet is built on the notion that this is out of reach for most people.
However, Matthew's parable is complicated by the fact that one particular individual is thrown out of the banquet because he is unsuitably dressed. Given the fact that the king's servants have rounded up the people for this banquet rather hastily, is it any wonder that this man did not come in the appropriate dress? However, the issue is not so much how he is dressed as it is that when questioned by the king, he is "reduced to silence." He makes no excuse; he offers no apology.
Every time we attend the Eucharist, we get a foretaste of that heavenly banquet. Every time we come to the banquet, we, like this unfortunate man, find ourselves inappropriately attired; for we carry with us the faults and failings of our day. Our white baptismal garments are soiled by our sins. This is precisely why we begin every Mass by confessing our sins. We ask the pardon of the king and beg absolution for our sins. Once again before we receive the Eucharist, we pray, "Lamb, of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us." The king, rich in mercy and compassion, forgives us and allows us to remain at the banquet even though our garments are soiled by our sins. Remaining silent before the king is not advised.