THE WEDDING FEAST – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 23, Year A; Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

October 15, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 (6cd)
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-10 (11-14)

A pastor friend of mine once asked if I thought there would be harps in heaven.

“I’m not really sure about that,” I answered.

“Well, I hope not,” he said, “because I hate harp music.”

Some portrayals of heaven are full of clouds, white robes, halos, and harps—not at all like Jesus’s characterization of the “kingdom of heaven” in the Gospel of Matthew. The teachings of Jesus suggest that the reign of God is like a tiny mustard seed, a buried treasure, a pearl of great value, a net teeming with fish, or a landowner who pays workers the same wage regardless of the number of hours that they have labored. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells yet another parable about God’s reign—one in which he likens it to a wedding banquet given by a king for his son. Instead of harps, clouds, and halos, Jesus speaks of invitations, food, drink, celebration, and proper attire.

While Jesus’s earlier parables of the kingdom left much to the imagination, the story we hear today is more pointed. It is the third parable that he tells in a lengthy confrontation with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. In the two previous stories, Jesus cast these elders first as the unfaithful son who shirked his duties and then as the conniving tenants who murdered the owner’s son in an effort to take control of the vineyard.

In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus casts the elders as the invited guests who not only violated protocol by declining a royal invitation but also committed some serious offenses by mistreating and killing the king’s emissaries. Following the king’s instructions, the servants then filled the banquet hall by going out into the streets, where they “gathered all whom they found, good and bad” (Mt 21:10).

Matthew was writing for a community dominated by Jewish Christians who were struggling with change. They were shocked by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 (see Mt 22:7). One aspect of the parable is a message of hope in the aftermath of death and destruction. By describing God’s coming reign as a wedding feast, Jesus evokes Isaiah’s vision of a future in which people of all nations will gather in a restored Jerusalem for a great feast: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (Is 25:6). Even death will at last be destroyed as “the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Is 25:8).

Matthew’s audience was also struggling with the inclusion of non-Jews in the community of disciples. This parable proclaims the good news that the reign of God is open not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles. Just as the king’s invitation was extended to everyone, so In Christ, God’s overflowing grace—and the invitation to God’s banquet table—is given freely to all, regardless of race, nation, language, or class.

One’s place in the kingdom is determined not by lineage or status but by one’s response to the invitation. The door is open, the table is set, but we must don the wedding garment in response to God’s gift. What is that garment? While the parable doesn’t give us a definitive answer, it may relate to Paul’s teaching about putting on Christ. All those who have been baptized—male or female, Gentile or Jew, slave or free— “have clothed [themselves] with Christ” (Gal 3:27), breaking down the barriers and cast off the distinctions that separate us. Accepting God’s invitation to the great banquet requires us to “clothe [ourselves] with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3:12).

The parable of the wedding banquet proclaims the good news that God’s feast is open to all without distinction. It also reminds us that even in the midst of disappointment, failure, death, and disaster, we can draw hope from God’s promise. We celebrate that hope every time we gather for the Lord’s Supper, which offers a foretaste right now of the great feast that God has prepared for all people. As we come to the Lord’s table to eat and drink, we receive what we need to live in that hope.

A Hymn for Today: “To the Wedding Feast”

Hymnwriter Delores Dufner, OSB, FHS, drew on texts from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and Revelation (including two of today’s Lectionary readings) in composing this text for singing during communion. As the community of disciples joins in the holy meal, this hymn sings of a feast to which all are invited and in which God’s abundant life is shared by all without distinction.

To the wedding feast God calls us;
Come, rejoicing to be fed!
Let the thirsty drink this chalice;
Let the hungry eat this bread. Refrain

All is ready; Christ invites us:
At this table let us dine.
God has made a banquet ready:
Richest food and finest wine!

Come, you poor who have no money;
Choose a meal to satisfy.
At this banquet God will feed us,
Wipe the tear from ev’ry eye. Refrain

Here the orphan finds a fam’ly;
Here the homeless find a place;
Here each guest is warmly welcomed
By a gracious host’s embrace. Refrain

Happy all who are invited
To the Lamb’s own wedding feast!
All shall gather at one table,
From the greatest to the least. Refrain

Nourished at this festive table,
Let us each to love attend
Till we know God’s life abundant:
Feast forever, journey’s end. Refrain

Text: Delores Dufner, OSB, b. 1939, © 2008 GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Parable of the Wedding Feast, A. N. Mironov, Creative Commons

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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