I want to go to the mountains. I always want to go to the mountains. I’ve gone out to Colorado a number of times and it is always sad to drive past the last real mountains on the way back home, just as it is always a joy to drive to see the first mountains begin to take shape as you are heading into higher country and even more of a thrill to drive up into their twists and turns.
There are quite a number of holy mountains in Scripture: Mount Horeb, Mount Moriah, Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, the Mount of Olives, Calvary. Mountains are a kind of trysting place between God and mankind. We go up and get closer to the heavens….up there on the mountain God does not have to come so far down to meet us — almost as if we give His back a little bit of a rest. The giving of the Law/the Beatitudes on a mountain reveals to us that if we live by this teaching we will reach this lofty destination – we will ascend. In this first reading today, Isaiah describes the Mountain of the Lord. All peoples will be provided for there with a feast of rich juicy foods and choice wines. This mountain will definitively end the human experience of death forever – and tears will be wiped away. The whole picture is so epic it might be worth saying in your best surfer/snowboarder voice: “Woooah, I’m glad God came and saved us – let us party so righteously!!!” And we will dwell with the Lord.
I used to have this wiry history professor who wore these wiry glasses and he would stump the students. His quotable quote was, “Don’t try to outfox the fox!” His most notorious riddles came in the form of ancient political cartoons from the 19th century that he placed towards the end of his tests. One in particular showed these alligators with open mouths coming out of the water. But if you turned the whole image sideways, you would see that the alligators’ mouths were bishops’ miters. The whole thing was an anti-Catholic slam, but you had to make the turn to see both perspectives.
Making the turn is critical in our faith. We have to remember that we are physical, but recognize and move into a spiritual understanding of God and love and creation. We have to make the turn from the personal way of looking at life to the communal – to the greater communion. We have to make the turn from seeing God’s invitation as extended to all in a general way to ourselves in an extremely intimate way. If we fail to make the turn, we run a high risk. For example, the chief priests and Pharisees who were looking for a Messiah are being addressed by Jesus in the parable of the King and the wedding feast. But if we think of our future in a physical way – mountains, wine, and food (good in their own way) – but see what God offers in a merely material way…and the King offers fattened cattle, this may not seem enough. The one man has his own farm. The other had plenty of money through his business – the physical doesn’t strike them. They reject the Lord. They do not take their bodies to the feast.
There is another example to watch out for however – the man who goes, but has no wedding garment. Now, this second string group is interesting in that it includes the good and the bad alike. How do the bad get into the wedding feast and presumably have a garment? Well, the bad are invited and show up, but they must not stay bad. They put on a garment through conversion. Their garment perhaps is one of great thanksgiving personally for being called to such a feast. Or perhaps one of imploring King’s mercy and forgiveness; one of the personal repentance needed in relationship to the King they long to see. Perhaps the man without the garment was one of the bad who merely despairs of not belonging there without the initiative that those others who need conversion take. The good should not take their status as deserved. Their garment must be one of gratitude and thanksgiving at the generosity of the King. Perhaps the man caught without the garment is one who considers himself at home without any additional movement of his soul – that the King is lucky to have him there. The lack of a proper garment in either direction seems to indicate a failure to make the turn from our previous mode to one centered on God.
Our whole situation in the world today seems to increasingly call us as a nation, as a Church, as a species to make the turn. To see ourselves personally called and communally connected to God. The increasing scope of the disasters that threaten us have the ability to call us to think as a body – one that is threatened altogether. From North Korea and Iran and their ambitions to the super-volcanoes that have been reported to be charging up to the emerging technologies that may push mankind largely out of the workforce, etc. are all issues against we will rise or fall together.
God certainly allows these various scenarios as consequences of our own free will, but He wants to unite us in love rather than fear. And so in the midst of these readings and in the midst of His imagery of juicy rich food and choice wines and fattened cattle that are slaughtered, He extends to us Himself. We are not merely called to be guests to the party and these foods are not to be treated as merely as something physically nice and yet superfluous. They are juicy, rich and fattened – not to keep us in our lower nature – but to allude to the presence of something hidden. One of the Church Fathers states that the fattened cattle are fattened with the Holy Spirit Himself. It reminds me of an old Eucharistic Litany that hails our Lord as the “Bread of Fatness.” He delivers Himself to us physically (but in a size and manner that does not entice us on its own) and spiritually, having given His very Soul and Divinity into this most sacred food. If we make the turn together, we can share in the Communion that lifts us up to the mountain of the Lord – together and beloved. We have been called as guests and should we make the turn we will yet remain as the Bride.