15th October 2017
The first reading is a very upbeat announcement of the good times that the Lord will bring about for all nations. This is not just about the freedom of the Jews who have been in captivity, but it is a universal message of good times, with plenty of all the fruits of the earth and no fear of troubles. The destruction of death might be seen by Christians as the announcement of life after death, but when this message was first delivered, probably in the 6th century BC, it meant no more will enemies kill each other. All these wonderful gifts from God are, however, delivered to all peoples “on this mountain,” a phrase that initially refers to the city of Jerusalem which is centred upon and around a prominent hill in the countryside; though the phrase was used symbolically to refer to all the people of Israel. So we see in this passage the basis for a future view of what God will do for all people on earth, but with the restriction of it being centred on the people of Israel; it is the vision of a prophet who sees the future darkly, reading it from the worldly state of affairs that he interprets from the standpoint of his assured belief that his is also the god of those who share his faith. We know ourselves that many of us Christians are caught in similar limitations in our vision of God’s relationship with the whole world and its people.
The Christians of Philippi made up the first community that Paul established about 50 AD in Europe. Though at first he preached to the Jews, it soon expanded into a mostly Gentile Christian church. They had on several occasions sent funds to him during his further missionary activities, and there was a caring friendship between him and them. The letter to the Philippians that is in the New Testament is most likely a conflation of extracts from several (maybe three) letters that he wrote to them at different times and about different matters. The resulting letter that we have comprises different matters with different tones and we can detect a number of different apparent endings in the last chapter. The two passages we have as our second reading today, are from one of these endings (verses 12-14 and 19-20). They reflect a situation where Paul has received more financial support from them brought to him by a respected member of the community named Epaphroditus; but while thanking them, he indicates that he can manage, for he has experienced both sufficiency and hardship, but has always been supported by God. He wants them to know also that God will see that they are all right (as He does us), and he gives glory to God for this – as we should.
The parable in today’s reading, seems to be drawn from a source used also by Luke, and even in a writing not in the New Testament, the Gospel of Thomas; the source is often referred to as Q (which is just short for the German ‘quelle’ meaning source). Matthew has altered the parable to have a somewhat different meaning that is more in line with his way of thinking. It is addressed specially to the priests and the Pharisees. The story is about a king putting on a banquet for his son; the invitations are rebuffed and the carriers of them ill-treated (even killed), so the king has his vengeance on them destroying their city. And then the commoners are invited and respond gratefully, yet some of them are ill-prepared and get thrown out (to hell). This is about God trying to win over the people (the Jews) with prophets and preachers, but they were not heeded at all. It is about the disasters that have befallen them – even the destruction of the Temple which happened in 70 AD by the Romans. It is about the Gentiles being invited, like the Christian communities open to all people. But finally it is about the need to repent sin and put on the new Christian way of life (like a garment) even if you are part of the community, else it will not go well with you.