On this mountain, the mountain of the Lord, all will share in rich food and choice drinks, death will be destroyed, tears will be wiped away from every face, and the reproach of his people will be removed from the whole earth. All will rejoice in the salvation that comes from the Lord, on this mountain.
What beautiful hopes and dreams are expressed in this reading from the prophet Isaiah. (Is 25:6-10a) It was a time of impending conflict in Israel. Defeat and exile awaited the people. Destruction of the temple on the mountain in Jerusalem was coming. All seemed hopeless. Yet, Isaiah promised that all would end well, because “the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”
The Mountain of the Lord, the Temple Mount, in the city known as Jerusalem, is described in this passage from Isaiah. It is named often in the scriptures of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and is revered as a holy place of encounter with the Most High. When the nation of Israel was again established following the Second World War, Jerusalem was to belong to no nation. It was to be a place open to the faithful of all faiths. The name of the city itself identifies it as a place of completeness and holiness, because the Lord dwells there.
An ancient land
Today we witness once again war in the land of Israel/Palestine. The same geographic area has been known by many names throughout history. The father of both Jews and Arabs came to this land from Ur of the Chaldees over 4,000 years ago. The land belonged to others when he arrived. He and his family were foreigners, shepherds, whose God had promised them he would be with them. Against all odds, it turned out to be the case that this God was not one local to Mesopotamia. This God was present everywhere they traveled, including for a time into Egypt.
Abraham settled in the land. He and his wife did not have children and it seemed they never would. But they welcomed visitors one day and the visitors promised that they would have a child. Abraham had despaired of receiving an heir through his wife, so he had a child with her servant. This child, who was named Ishmael, Abraham believed would be his heir. However, the visitors’ promise was kept and a year later, Sarah bore a son for her husband Abraham. This was the child of the promise and he was named Isaac. Ishmael and his mother were sent away.
Thus were sown the seeds of the conflict we see continuing today.
When the descendants of Abraham moved to Egypt during a time of famine, others remained in the land they left behind. Many generations later, these descendants had grown to be a large nation. They left slavery in Egypt, with the help of their God, traveled through the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years and eventually re-entered the land of Abraham and their ancestors. Once again, the land was filled with people. It was not open for a large new group of people to move in without conflict. The newly arrived battled the existing residents and took for themselves most of the land, including the mountain on which the temple was built in Jerusalem.
As we have been hearing in the readings from Isaiah and Ezekiel, conflict continued with surrounding countries, Babylon (Iraq), Persia (Iran), Greece, and others. Sometimes the children of Israel (another name for Jacob, one of the sons of Isaac) won these conflicts. Sometimes they were defeated and the people taken into exile. Always they returned, until the Romans destroyed the temple in the year 70 CE. At that time, most of the people were killed or driven into exile.
Again, non-Jewish people, including the descendants of Ishmael, many of whom had never completely left, moved back into the area and prospered.
It was an on-going cycle of hope and disappointment, building and destruction. This cycle was not unique to this land. It was a cycle we have seen throughout history and in many areas around the world. Peoples come into a new area. Those who were living there previously are defeated. New nations rise, others come later and again war ensues. People are killed. Revenge is taken. Wars continue and hatreds grow ever more deeply rooted.
Is there any cause for hope? Will the cycle never end?
Jesus told a story that sheds a bit of light on this issue. (Mt 22:1-14) It seems there was a king whose son was getting married. The marriage of a royal prince is always a big deal. Invitations to the ceremony and the festivities are generally highly desired. But in this case, when the wedding feast began, none of the guests arrived. The food was ready. The tables were set. Everyone was all dressed up. And no one came.
Well, this would never do. The King sent out his servants to remind those who had been invited. But the guests refused to come to the party. There must have been some mistake, perhaps they didn’t get the date right? So he sent out the servants again with an urgent message. “I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” The food is going to spoil. We can’t just put it into the freezer for another day! This is the day…
But the guests still didn’t come. Instead, they mistreated and killed the king’s servants.
The king was furious. He sent out his soldiers and killed those who had refused his invitation and killed his servants. He burned their city to the ground.
Still, the food was waiting and there were no guests.
This did not stop the king. He had the servants go out to the main roads and invite anyone they met there to come to the feast. Fine clothes were provided for everyone. It would still be a party worthy of the son of a king.
When the king arrived at the party, one guest stood out. This person had refused the offer of new clothes to wear for the party. He was still in his everyday traveling or work clothes.
This puzzled the king. Why haven’t you put on the wedding clothes that were provided for you? The man had nothing to say for himself. So the king ordered that he be tied up and thrown out of the banquet hall. Jesus finished his story with the words, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Wedding Garments and War?
What does this have to do with the current war between Israel and Hamas?
It seems to me that the critical piece that is missing is something like that wedding garment. What does the wedding garment in the story represent? What does refusing to wear one that has been provided for the guest mean?
We are continually offered gifts by the Holy Spirit, including wisdom, understanding, and courage. These gifts allow us to bear fruit. The fruit we are to bear might be likened to the wedding garments of Jesus’ story. These garments are made of characteristics such as patience, kindness, goodness, joy, gentleness, faithfulness, peace, self-control, and love.
When we are invited to the wedding feast for the King’s son, we wear those characteristics as part of our identity and history. If we appear before the King refusing to wear these lovely garments, we won’t fit in. We will have chosen exclusion.
A change of heart is essential for inclusion at the king’s banquet. Similarly it is essential to the creation of peace in the Middle East and around the world. As long as the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael see each other as enemies who are taking each other’s land, there can never be peace. As long as revenge for injuries and massive destruction of life is the response in difficult relationships, the pogroms, massacres, and the Holocaust that were inflicted on the children of Isaac for so many centuries, and the never-ending cycles of violence over which of his descendants will own and control the land originally settled by Abraham will beset the world.
When the agendas of surrounding countries and peoples also enter into the equation, things get even more complicated. Just as in the past, other nations also played a role in whether there was peace or war in the area, larger forces complicate the realities of today and don’t help bring a peaceful resolution to modern conflicts.
Is there hope? I believe there is always hope. I don’t know what it will take, but somehow, when the original guests don’t come to the wedding feast, there will be a way for the feast to happen anyway. Some will put on the wedding garments and lead the way. The prophet tells us that on the mountain of the Lord there will be peace and abundance. People from all nations will come together to share in the blessings and joy of God’s saving work, the defeat of evil and death. People will learn to forgive. Not necessarily to forget. But to forgive and decide to work together for the common good – that would be a critical place to start. And to trust that together they could all live and prosper. Not an easy step by any stretch of the imagination after so much hurt and anger. But essential.
In the meanwhile, we join together in prayer for peace and reconciliation. Violence does not result in peace. It only leads to more violence.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ishmael be with their descendants around the world and especially in Israel and Gaza today. May peace and justice begin to sprout and bear fruit in the land that is their common inheritance.
Readings for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
Special thanks to Deacon Patrick Conway of Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos for his insight into the meaning of the wedding garment in today’s parable.