‘For Many’

Is 25:6-10a • Phil 4:12-14,19-20 • Mt 22:1-14

When the new translation of our missal was released just a few years ago, there was much criticism about the translation of the words of consecration over the wine. We were used to the words, “It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.” Now the priest says, “[It] will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” At first glance (and for many still), it sounds as if we no longer believe that Jesus died for everyone. Of course Jesus did die for everyone, but why the change?

Aside from the attempt to more strictly translate Latin into English, the change enables us to experience several realities simultaneously. First, we are returned to a more faithful translation of the Scriptures. (Yes, despite opinions to the contrary, the Catholic Church is a Scripture-based church, and being faithful to the Scriptures is of fundamental importance to the Catholic Church.)

Scripturally, the words “the many” are the opposite of “the few.” The culture of Jesus’ day understood groups of people as either “insiders” or “outsiders.” No one would have understood our phrase “straddle the fence.” You were either in or out. What Jesus did was radically different from the past. His culture understood “the few” as the Jews. In the strict understanding of themselves as a people, the belief was that the Messiah was to come only for the Jews, the insiders. “The many” was understood to be inclusive of all the nations. We see this in our passage from Isaiah who says “On this mountain the Lord will provide for all peoples.”

We also must enter into the sublime understanding of language itself. Phrases can have layers of meaning. Part of the goal of the re-translation of the Roman Missal was to reintroduce the ability of the language of prayer to recapture layers of meaning in order to avoid just one meaning, which limits depth of prayer and the power of the Scriptures.

Yes, Jesus came with an offer of salvation for all people. This is a doctrine of faith; however, salvation is a gift that must be accepted. Not everyone has or will accept the gift. This is precisely what we learn from Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast.

This is the third Sunday in a row that the Gospel presents Jesus in confrontation with leaders. In each confrontation, Jesus uses parables which point out the unfaithfulness of the leaders, the insiders. As insiders the Jews had a special relationship with God, but they had taken it for granted. Two weeks ago we heard that repentant sinners (outsiders) would enter the kingdom before those assumed to be chosen for the kingdom (insiders). Last week we heard about the vineyard and those who decided to take possession of it for themselves. The punishment was severe for those who lost sight of the fact that what we have is actually God’s and that it is lent to us in order to produce more goodness, charity, and mercy.

This week we hear Jesus say that those originally invited to the feast, those who appeared to be respectful and righteous insiders, were so preoccupied with their own affairs and agendas that they ignored the invitation. To refuse an invitation from a king, whether by intention or negligence, was an act of rebellion. Kings dealt with such people quickly and definitively. Jesus is accusing the leaders of doing just this, and by extension, His words warn to us to pay attention to God’s invitation.

For us as Catholics, coming to the altar to be in the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ is a weekly invitation to the Lord’s feast, yet we too often refuse the invitation. Sometimes it is hard to do, but we must enter the mind of Christ and see our refusal to accept His invitation as an act of rebellion. At the least, it is an act of taking Christ for granted. To avoid doing so requires intentional effort to remind ourselves of who God is and who He is in our lives.

Not only is “the many” a way of saying that the gift of salvation is offered to everyone, it is a way of saying that “many” will accept the gift, but not everyone does accept. While scholars disagree over the precise meaning of throwing out the individual who was dressed inappropriately, it does remind us that God does have standards and expectations. We cannot lackadaisically respond to God’s invitation.

Our baptismal garment is the appropriate dress for God’s kingdom. We must keep it ready for our turn to enter the wedding feast. And Isaiah offers a glimpse of a banquet far beyond our imaging for those who do respond appropriately to God’s invitation.

FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.