How could people overlook an event and a person they'd been expecting for a lifetime? Matthew's church often asked that question. Being a Jewish/Christian community, they came into contact daily with fellow Jews who thought they were heretics because they followed Jesus.

This small group believed Jesus to be the Messiah all Jews anticipated. In their opinion, the carpenter/teacher from Nazareth had shown and opened the road to eternal salvation. Yet their belief was a minority opinion in the whole of Judaism. Why were they able to see something almost everyone else missed? How could someone so essential to their lives be completely ignored by the majority of Yahweh's people?

Jesus' followers had no doubt He was essential. Paul emphatically proclaims that in the second reading (Phil 4:12-14, 19-20). "In Him," he writes, "who is the source of my strength, I have strength for everything. And when the Apostle thanks his friends for their kindness toward him, he does so in these words: "My God in turn will supply your needs fully, in a way worthy of His magnificent riches in Christ Jesus." Paul's present strength comes from Jesus; his future hope revolves around Jesus. How can one person be more indispensable for another person?

Missing persons

Yet, as Jesus reflects in the Gospel (Mt 22:1-14), those who should have recognized the importance of His life and teaching must have been spaced out on the day He came into their lives. They were like people awaiting the happening of a lifetime " an invitation to the prince's wedding festivities " who uncharacteristically come up with silly excuses when the "invite" is finally delivered.

"Some ignored the invitation and went their way, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of the king's servants, insulted them and killed them."

But just because "those who were invited were unfit to come," the king doesn't send the food back to the caterers, return the tuxedos to the rental agency, or cancel the band. The wedding banquet will still be held, but with different guests. "The servants then went out into the byroads and rounded up everyone they met, bad as well as good. This filled the wedding hall with banqueters."

The message is clear: Like the preceding story of the vineyard renters, there's a personnel change. Those first in charge or invited are out; total strangers are in. In other words, Gentiles have stepped in to replace the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh's call.

(The last four verses " the improperly clothed guest passage " weren't originally a part of the parable. Early Christian preachers simply combined two independent stories because both involved wedding banquets.)

Why the ignoring?

Of course, even after we understand the parable, the question still remains: What was there about Jesus to cause those looking and longing for the salvation He offered to reject both Him and it when they finally arrived? The first reading (Is 25:6-10) provides a clue.

Like all prophets, Isaiah tries to expand the horizons of the people to whom he ministers. In this oracle, he paraphrases modern jokes about various religious denominations who believe they're alone in heaven. Using 8th century B.C.E. images, he speaks about the great eschatological banquet on Mt. Zion, which all Jews anticipated. Isaiah announces "good news and bad news." The banquet is certainly going to take place, but Yahweh is planning to invite "all peoples." This event of rich food and choice wine, this event which signals the destruction of death forever, will have an open guest list.

"The Lord God," Isaiah proclaims, "will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of His people He will remove from the whole earth...." Yahweh will destroy "the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations." Salvation always includes a call to join God's very wide outlook on the world and its people.

Because of our natural insecurity, many of us find it impossible to make such a jump. We'd much rather stay where we are. We're comfortable having "ins and outs." We'd rather not try to relate with everyone.

No wonder so many rejected Jesus' invitation. If we really understand what it entails, many of us would still be turning it down today.