The Lord’s providence for his holy people is again the theme of this Sunday’s scripture readings, with a focus on the Kingdom of Heaven being the surpassing realization of the prophetic anticipations of the Old Testament. The first such prophecy of God’s gracious kindness to his people comes from Isaiah, arguably the greatest of the biblical prophets and the one from whom we hear most frequently at Sunday masses.
Isaiah writes: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines…On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever” (Isa 25:6, 7). The first part of his promise uses imagery of food and drink to underline the larger point made in the latter part, that God’s providence for his chosen ones is all-encompassing. The Lord will provide both nourishment for the body and salvation for the soul.
A similar note is sounded in the responsorial Psalm, where we sing together: “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Later the Psalmist rejoices: “Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come” (Ps 23:5, 6). These words express the inspired author’s confidence that in spite of the obstacles and hardships he honestly acknowledges (“in the sight of my foes”) he remains firm in his hope that the Lord will always sustain him.
Going deeper into this theme, in the second reading Saint Paul begins to explain how God’s providence comes together with our human freedom. He writes: “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 4:12-13). By saying “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” Paul acknowledges that it is the strength of God—which we often call grace—that enables us to overcome any challenge, yet we must make the free choice to cooperate with God in bringing the good he has begun in us to its proper end (see Phil 1:6).
Paul’s point about God’s grace and human freedom becomes clearer in the Gospel, where Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet, writing: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matt 22:2). The purpose of this parable is to underline that while God gives all that we need for salvation, each one of us must respond freely, receiving the Lord’s aid and embracing the Kingdom-centered life to which God’s grace directs us. In other words, our sharing in the Kingdom is a free gift, but we are responsible to humbly accept that gift and be good stewards of it—making sure we are not found “without a wedding garment” on the day of the Lord’s return (Matt 22:12).
As the parable concludes with the warning, “Many are called but few are chosen,” we are reminded that God’s gracious kindness is always available to us, even going far beyond the expectations of Isaiah and the Psalmist. At the same time, Saint Paul provides the inspiration we need to freely choose to take our own proper place in God’s providential work of redemption, saying together with him “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Photo: Seth Harbaugh, overlooking the the land of Israel on Muhraqa “Place of fire” on the top of Mount Carmel.