“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Isaiah 25:6
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast ….” Mt. 22: 1
“Go out … into the main roads and invite into the feast whomever you find.” Mt. 22:9
When I was a kid growing up, family meals were a central feature of our lives – for better or for worse. Many memories exist concerning those meals. But one stands out.
It was summer. It was hot. No air conditioning at that time. All our windows were open. So were those in the house right next door to us – the one in which our parish priests lived.
As I remember it, all ten of us children were gathered around the table, along with mom and dad. All the priests were gathered around theirs. A short distance stood between our two homes.
Then, a serious problem arose:
Dad, commonly referred to as “Pete” by his friends, couldn’t find the ketchup. And, he was not amused, to put it kindly.
He began by shouting about where the ketchup was. This was soon followed by the slamming of doors and the banging of drawers.
It finally came to an end, when suddenly, a familiar voice was heard to come from across the way. It was that of none other than the pastor of our parish!
“Hey, Pete,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of ketchup over here. Send over one of the kids and we’ll give you some.”
Dead silence reigned supreme in our house for some time after that.
“Dining in the Kingdom of God.”
This is the title of a book by a scripture scholar who points out that a family meal was the most prominent occasion for Jesus’ teaching and healing.
In the Gospel of Luke alone, for example, there are some fifteen meals at which Jesus presented his view of a God that surpassed anything known before.
As un-sacred as some family meals can be at times, nevertheless it is the most common image of the gift, the surprise that Jesus is offering to each one of us when He gathers all His people together in the reality of what we have come to call “heaven.”
That experience, Jesus tells us, will be like a banquet, a feast, an enormous dinner party. It’s as if God wants to see all his people sitting around a table with him, enjoying abundant life forever.
Open table fellowship becomes Jesus’ most common visual aid, His power-point.
Jesus chooses a common meal because it has all the proper ingredients: community, equality, joy, nurturance, delight – and a generous host.
What a perfect metaphor for eternity and salvation!
This parable of the banquet, then, is an eloquent reminder of THE central theme of the entire Bible:
Divine Unmerited Generosity, or what we more commonly call Grace.
This Generosity or Grace is “everywhere available, totally given, usually undetected as such, and often even undesired, “as one scholar puts it.
Abundance, excess, “full measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over and pouring into your lap,” as the Gospel of Luke expresses it – this is the “grace,” the gift that God offers to us. It is the key and the code to understand everything that is transformative in sacred scripture.
And there’s more:
The invitation is addressed to everyone!
Not just the “nice” people. Not just the “good” people. Everyone is invited.
Or, as today’s Gospel puts it:
“Go out into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find … bad and good alike.”
God does not exclude.
He only invites.
But our Gospel today also makes it clear that God is willing only to invite. He refuses to command. He refuses to pressure or force anyone.
This is where you and I arrive on the scene, if you will. This is where the rubber hits the road for you and me.
The invitation has been sent. And we’re on the list.
The question is:
Will we come to the banquet?
It’s a real question because for some people religion is all about reward and punishment, shame and guilt, rules and regulations. The great themes of grace and liberation, of the opportunity for divine union, of the possibility of knowing God’s infinite embrace of mercy-beyond-measure has often been squelched.
It’s a real question because too many times people have feared the invitation, or seen it as simply fanciful, or too good to be true, or have had it presented as duty instead of delight.
The Gospel today suggests even another reason for declining the invitation:
We’re just too busy. We’ve got more important matters to deal with. We’re distracted by the demands of jobs, and families, and getting ahead. We’re seduced by ambition and greed and pleasure pursuits of all kinds. We’re preoccupied with what people will think, how we can obtain more “stuff” for ourselves, and how we can mirror our culture rather than transform it.
This is our challenge:
How can the Grace that is our God, and the Mercy that emanates from our God become more visible in the world of today?
How can it reach into the lives of families throughout the world and re-invigorate them, re-new them, re-make them into images of the God who dined with sinners, ate with Pharisees, and drank with the poor and the undesirable and the outcasts?
Meals, as common and undisciplined as they can often be – even ones where the ketchup cannot be found! – are still the best image of what kind of relationship we can have with the God of Jesus.
That’s why Jesus chose it – a meal – as the best human sign he could think of to tell us about the “grace” of divine union that he has planned for all of us – a Grace and a Generosity as sumptuous as “rich foods and choice wines.”
With, of course, an endless supply of ketchup!
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.