28th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Isaiah 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-14,19-20; Gospel of Matthew 22:1-14
Gratitude or Ingratitude . . .?

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 15th October 2017

Today’s story of the “Great Banquet” in the Gospel of Matthew is better understood in the context of the Parable of the “Two Sons” and the Parable of the “Landlord and the Tenants” that we heard proclaimed in the last two Sundays.  All the three parables of Jesus were addressed to the chief priests and elders of the Chosen people of Israel, whom we know rejected the gift of the Good News of Salvation that Jesus proclaimed them.

First, let us recall that in the “Parable of the two Sons,” when the father asked his sons to go and work in the vineyard, the FIRST Son immediately responded, “I will not go, but afterwards thought better of it and went.”  However, as for the SECOND Son, he answered, “Yes I will go, but in the end did not go.

As for the parable of the “Landlord and Tenants,” we find how the landlord had leased his land to the tenants.  But, when harvest time came and when the landlord sent servants to collect the portion of the produce that justly belonged to him, the tenants seized the servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third.  The landlord, continued to be patient and sent more servants and finally sent his Son . . . The tenants remained murderous and killed all the servants including the landlord’s Son. 

Today’s Gospel story of the “Royal Banquet” is an allegory, where each part of the story symbolises the history of “Salvation.”   So, we have the story of the “Royal Banquet” symbolising the “Messianic Banquet;” the “Banquet of the Final Judgment and Salvation.”  We have a king who sent out invitations to people for the banquet.  It was customary, that two invitations were sent: the first invitation notifies the guests that they were invited, but the exact date of the banquet remains unknown.  As such, those invited were meant to feel the great honour of being invited and thus, vigilantly prepare for the announcement of the time of the “banquet” that they will receive in the second invitation.  

In today’s allegory of the “Banquet of Salvation” those who were first invited gave excuses after excuses for not attending.  The king has great patience and continues to send more and more servants to try to persuade them to attend.  However, these servants, who represented “prophetic missionaries” who were sent to proclaim the Good News of Salvation, were not only met with refusal, but were abused and martyred. 

Finally, one day the king’s patience ran out.  The Gospel of Matthew describes this as, “the king was furious.  He despatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their towns.”  In this the Gospel of Matthew, in retrospect was describing the historical event of the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem.  This was God’s judgement on the rebellious Israel, who had rejected the Messiah.  As the banquet hall remained empty, the king then sent servants to invite everyone “both good and bad alike” for the banquet. 

When the “banquet hall” was filled with guests, the king arrived.  However, he noticed someone not wearing the wedding garment.  When the king questioned how he got in, the Gospel says, “the man was silent.”  Then, the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”  For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Scripture scholars tell us that in early Christianity, the new identity of conversion was often pictured as donning a new set of clothes; the language of changing clothes symbolised the giving up the old way of life and putting on a new Christian identity and accepting a new Christian way of living.  This is still practiced today at the Baptism of infants and adults in the Catholic church. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we reflect on the three parables, representing how the scribes and the elders and Pharisees rejected the Good News of Salvation, we are reminded of our need also, to reflect on our own lives and not to take the gift of our faith and the abundant blessings that God has given us for granted so that we may not fall into the similar traps and temptations.

My reflections on these parables in my last two Sundays tell me that one of the common thread that runs through the reasons for rejecting the Good News of Salvation is the sin of “ingratitude” towards the abundant blessings that God has given us.  This “ingratitude” that we show is often so subtle that we ourselves are not very aware of them.  However, today’s Gospel challenges us to the truth that our “ingratitude” to God can indeed have the possibility of even losing the gift of eternal life that Jesus describes as, “the weeping and grinding of teeth;” if we were to choose deliberately to live a lifestyle that continually and without remorse, reject the gift of Salvation of Jesus . . . like the scribes and the elders and Pharisees.

And so, let us recall that in the “Parable of the Two Sons,” the ingratitude there is represented by the “Second Son” who replied “yes, to his father, to work in the vineyard, but in the end did not go.”  The ingratitude of the “Second Son” is his complacent attitude towards life.  As such, he lives a faith that is routine and superficial.  He does not value the depth and beauty of his relationship with his father which is the gift of the divine faith.   And, in the end, he does not obey and does not turn up as he had originally promised his father.

The “Parable of the Landlord and Tenants” on the other hand stresses the ingratitude of the Tenants who refused to face the truth that they were mere “tenants” who were actually only stewards of the land and not owners of the land.  As such, they were entrusted to them to till and produce the harvest.  However, they were consumed by their greed and eventually destroyed themselves, and their relationship with the Landlord.

And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, let us remind ourselves that today’s Gospel is challenging you and I to be more grateful to God for the abundant blessings that God has given us in our lives, especially the gift of eternal life and happiness after we die. 

The Parable of the “Great Banquet of Salvation” that climaxes the other two preceding Parables more specifically addresses the Truth and Reality of the gift of Salvation that the scribes and the elders and Pharisees rejected.  In our reflection, as we are reminded that one of the biggest temptation that we are each cautioned and challenged today to avoid is the temptation of ingratitude that we may have, for the abundant blessings and the gift of eternal life that we have received from God. 

Such “ingratitude”, if we are not careful can easily develop into an arrogant attitude that further develops into “pride.” the pride of having a “false self-importance” that see others as less important than us . . . and failing to see and accept others as God’s precious children.

If we reflect more deeply on, “Why does God bless us so abundantly?”  we will realise that “God blesses us abundantly, because He loves us dearly and personally.  And if this is so, then let us also remember that we are not the only person that is loved by God.  God also loves deeply and personally every single person that He Created, and He also wants every person to receive all the blessings He wants to shower upon them; especially the most precious and divine gift of eternal life and Salvation.

As such, when God blesses us abundantly, it is clearly His Will that He also wants each of us to be a blessing to others.  And when we are a blessing to each other, then God’s Kingdom will reign more fully and be more victorious . . . We will then each be reminding and witnessing to each other how important it is to accept God’s invitation to the “eternal banquet of Salvation” . . . and not be too caught up by the unnecessary concerns and distractions of our daily living, and focus our lives more on Him and gift of SALVATION.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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