A reflection on the Mass readings for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
At my parish, I am currently leading an eight-week series on St. John of the Cross. John’s poems are all brilliant, but the ones that are the most beloved, The Spiritual Canticle, The Dark Night, and The Living Flame of Love, are centered on the relationship between God and the soul in terms of a “spiritual marriage.” God is the Bridegroom and the soul is the bride. Not everyone is comfortable with John’s analogy, but John is not too far off when he describes the union of God and the human soul in terms of a marriage. After all, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in today’s Gospel, he uses the analogy of a “wedding feast.” A wedding is associated with love, commitment, intimacy, joy, fulfilment, and life. If this indeed is our expectation from heaven, then “spiritual marriage” and “wedding feast” are perfect analogies for this relationship.
In today’s first reading, Isaiah uses the analogy of rich, juicy food and choice wines to capture the abundant life with God. It represents a banquet—wedding or otherwise. Isaiah uses other images as well—that of God removing a veil that veils all people and a web woven over all nations; that of death being destroyed forever; that of God wiping the tears from every face (Is 25:6-9). Any analogy falls short of capturing the totality and the essence of life with God, but juicy rich food, good wine, life without tears, a wedding feast, a spiritual marriage—these images and analogies help us to describe the indescribable.
Using the analogy of the “wedding feast,” I would like to offer three practical implications for today.
Let us begin with the invitation. God invites “all peoples.” As Isaiah says, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples…” (Is 25:6). The choice, whether to accept this invitation or decline it, is left to the invitees. This is made amply clear in the parable of the wedding feast. However, the point is that “all peoples” are invited to share in God’s life. In recent times, we have become very conscious that we are all one people. The pandemic, for example, has challenged our attempt to overlook our common humanity. The coronavirus did not discriminate between us and them, black and white, rich and poor, religious and irreligious, Christian and non-Christian, citizen and immigrant, rulers and ruled. Similarly, the effects of climate change will not spare any nation, religion, or people. This is the reason that in his most recent encyclicals, Pope Francis has challenged world leaders who attempt to emphasize differences rather than humanity’s common bond.
In both Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis stresses the importance of recognizing humanity’s common origin and destiny. He says in Fratelli Tutti, “By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her voice, brothers and sister all” (FT 8). And today, once again, scripture reminds us of our common humanity: “On this mountain the LORD of host will provide for all peoples” (Is 25:6). It is imperative that we abandon exclusivity and division and respond to God’s call for unity, so that we recognize all people as God’s people, and accept everyone as our brothers and sisters.
The Preparation for the Wedding Feast
There is another important analogy in today’s first reading from Isaiah. He says, “On this mountain, he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples” (Is 25:7). The analogy of the veil is also used by John of the Cross. When the soul has reached the deepest level of union with God that is possible in mortal life, the soul cries out to God to remove the final veil that separates the soul from total union with God – the beatific vision.
Similarly, the invitation to the “wedding feast” is an invitation to enter unhindered into God’s love-filled life. In these analogies there is also the invitation to live our life on earth as a preparation for the veil to be removed, to be prepared for the wedding feast. Perhaps this is the meaning of Paul’s words in today’s second reading: “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:12-14). For John of the Cross, it is “the dark night” that prepares and purifies the soul for the veil to be removed. Paul, John of the Cross, and Jesus invite us to live life carefully, gently, lovingly, faithfully, and openly in all circumstances. Indeed, our life our earth is a preparation for the veil to be removed completely and for us to participate intimately in the wedding feast. Of course, God gives us the freedom to ignore this invitation and go about living our busy lives. We must not forget the danger that our present choice can become an eternal choice.
As with all parables, the parable of the wedding feast contains a surprise element. There is a single guest who accepts the invitation and comes to the wedding feast but is thrown out because he did not come in his wedding garments. It seems unfair that someone to whom the invitation came at the very last hour was expected to come with a wedding garment.
The surprise—or we might call it the shock—element contains two lessons for us. For one thing, it further emphasizes the importance of living life carefully as a preparation for our eternal wedding feast. We really do not want to be found unprepared if our invitation came unexpectedly. The second lesson is that a wedding is associated with love, celebration, joy, happiness, and life. No one comes to a wedding feast out of hate or with selfish motives. If the wedding feast represents life with God, then we can think of the person without the wedding garment as a person whose values are irredeemably inconsistent with the kingdom of God. For example, there is no place for hatred in God’s wedding banquet. There is no place for destructive greed in life with God. There is no place for divisive tactics, egoism, selfishness, pride, arrogance, bullying, name calling, belittling, or hurting at God’s wedding feast. As Pope Francis says in Fratelli Tutti, “All of us, as believers, need to recognize that love takes first place; love must never be put at risk, and the greatest danger lies in failing to love” (FT 92). If we fail to love we might find ourselves excluded, for Christ-like love is indeed the wedding garment.
In many ways, the Eucharist is a foretaste of the wedding feast. The Eucharist is a foretaste of our life with God. On that day “God will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face” (Is 25:9). On that day we will cry out, “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!” Until then, the Eucharist is our wedding feast and our deepest union with God. May we always be found prepared and worthy. Amen.