The Great Messianic Banquet
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 12, 2021
We know that Jesus used parables in his teaching. It is important to remember what a parable is. Parables are extended metaphors that use concrete examples to form a brief, coherent story. Parables are not history and their meaning is not immediately accessible. They are meant to draw us in and provoke us to “subvert conventional ways of seeing and living and to invite hearers to an alternative way of life.” (Marcus Borg) Parables invite us to dive deeper into the Spirit.
I am reminded of the words of St. John in his first epistle (2:27). “And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him remains in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you…remain in Him.”
Not that we should venture out like the Lone Ranger and create our own truths. For as St. Peter writes, “The prophecies of scripture are not for private interpretation.” And St. Paul writes to Timothy that the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth.” So, the Church is not optional if one is seeking to follow Christ and if one wants to understand the meaning of Scripture we must rest on the foundation built by our Lord, which is his Body, the Church.
The trick is, of course, to remain in him. That is what the today’s parable is all about.
I was reading in the book JESUS THROUGH MIDDLE EASTERN EYES by Kenneth Bailey that for a banquet like this the host would first invite his close friends and acquaintances. To reject this invitation with flimsy excuses was considered a great and public insult and a sign of disrespect for the host. The great scriptural exegete Ibn al-Tayyib goes so far as to say that it shows “the hatred of the guests for the host” who only wishes to share his nobility with them.
Bailey explains that the invited guests would probably have been in the house before the food was served waiting for the announcement that dinner is ready. Then they would go into the dining room and take their seats. The departure of three guests with their flimsy excuses, whether outside or inside the house, could well have disrupted the entire event.
Instead of taking retribution (which the host certainly could have done) he decides to do something unprecedented, nontraditional, and Christlike. He sends his servant out to invite those who would never have hoped to be invited, the common people, “the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame.” This is the second group of invitees.
It reminds me of an Indian man answering the question about how life is in India under the pandemic. He replied, “As it always is. The rich live and the poor die.” Jesus is intent on upending this social elitism as this parable shows.
When the servant notices that there is still room he invites a third category of people. Biblical commentators have referred to this third group as the “outsiders,” those who do not belong to the fold of Israel. In other words the Gentiles. Through his invitation the host shows his willingness to share his nobility even with foreigners. Including the “outsiders” is truly a remarkable and unprecedented act of grace. So remarkable that the host instructs his servant to convince them, against their own incredulity, that the invitation is real! That is what the Lord means by “compel them to come.” His instructions were meant to convince, assure and give testimony to the veracity of his good intentions.
If Christ had been an elitist and exclusive, then it would give us an excuse to bar our doors to the lowly and undesirable. But he was not and so we have no excuse.
Isaiah prophecies about this is in Isaiah 56:6-8. Foreigners will be accepted on “my holy mountain,” says the Lord, “and their offerings “will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” The Great Banquet is open to everyone. The kingdom of heaven is not exclusive.
Now we’ve begun to uncover some of the mystery of the parable. The Great Banquet signifies the Messianic Banquet at the end of days. All are invited, although not all will attend. That is the meaning of “many are called, but few are chosen.”
“The Eucharist,” writes Bailey, “is a foreshadowing of the Great Banquet.” Yes, it is and it is more than that. The Eucharist IS the Great Banquet taking place here and now, in our midst. The kingdom of heaven is here now and when we enter into the Eucharistic celebration, we have entered into the time beyond time, the Eighth Day, and we can rightfully give thanks for the “second and glorious coming which has already come to pass” (as the Liturgy indicates) and occurs each time we do. In fact, that is the very heart of the Lord’s teaching. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And the Lord is in our midst!
The Messiah has come and abides with us forever. And he invites everyone to share in his nobility and divinity. The Messianic Banquet is on-going and eternal. The focus on the immanence and omnipresence of God and his kingdom changes everything. The even deeper meaning is that the Great Banquet is happening in our hearts, in our very bodies which are the temples of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is the outward manifestation of the life of the Spirit in every believer. Each day, each moment, each minute and every second the invitation to dine with Christ is being sounded. The dinner bell is ringing. The meal is served. Let’s find our seats.