It was shortly after lunch that I finished this homily, and who could blame me? With all this talk of “juicy, rich food” and wedding banquets, and even St. Paul saying that he knew what it was like to be well-fed and what it was like to be hungry, whose mind wouldn’t turn to food? And that’s really okay, because all of us have come here [today / tonight] because we are hungry, but maybe hungry in a different way.
Many people, when asked why they pick one church over another, say that they do it because it is at that church that they are “spiritually fed.” And that is certainly one of the tasks of the church, to feed those who hunger with the spiritual food that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. And I think that’s the lens through which we have to see this rather curious Gospel parable today.
When our modern ears hear this parable, there are surely things that seem odd about it, aren’t there? First of all, as the wedding banquet is finished, the guests have to be summoned to the feast. But in those days, they probably had received a formal invitation previously, and then had to be let know when the feast was ready. But then we come to this very curious issue of the invited guests not wishing to attend. What could possibly be keeping them away. Even if they weren’t thrilled by the invitation and honored to attend, you’d think they would show up anyway because of who it is that is inviting them. You would think they would want to keep the king happy.
And many of us have been in the position of going to some social event because it is expected of us, I am sure. I myself remember clearly attending events for work in my pre-priesthood days because clients or other VIPs were in the area. Even in seminary, we were often “invited” to events that really were mandatory, which always used to drive me nuts. But we can all relate in some way to attending some social event because it is expected of us, and not necessarily because we would choose to be there.
And that makes what happens next even stranger. Did they really think they could mistreat and kill the king’s messengers without any kind of consequences? No king worth his salt would let such a disrespectful challenge to his authority go unpunished.
But now the banquet is still ready and the guests are well, unavailable shall we say… So the king sends the messengers out to all the public places in order to invite whomever they find. And who are they going to find? Well, probably pretty much what you’d expect: peddlers, butchers, beggars, prostitutes, tax collectors, shop lifters, the physically impaired and sick … in short, not the sort of people you’d expect to find at a king’s wedding banquet.
So, to me, it’s not all that shocking that one of them is not appropriately dressed for the banquet. What is shocking is that the rest of them are, right? Some biblical scholars have suggested that perhaps the king, knowing who was going to show up, may have provided appropriate attire, and that one person refused to put it on. Certainly if that were true, we could all understand the king throwing that person out.
Putting the parable in context, the banquet is the kingdom of God. The distinguished invited guests are the people to whom Jesus addressed the parable: the chief priests and the elders of the people. These have all rejected the invitation numerous times, and would now make that rejection complete by murdering the messenger, the king’s son, Christ Jesus. Because of this, God would take the kingdom from them, letting them go on to their destruction, and offer the kingdom to everyone that would come, possibly indicating the Gentiles, but certainly including everyone whose way of life would have been looked down upon by the chief priests and elders: prostitutes, criminals, beggars, the blind and lame. All of these would be ushered in to the banquet, being given the new beautiful wedding garment which is baptism, of course, and treated to a wonderful banquet, which is the Eucharist. Those who further reject the king by refusing to don that pristine garment may indeed be cast out, but to everyone who accepts the grace given them, a sumptuous banquet awaits.
Can you imagine the hunger that those beggars, prostitutes, criminals, blind and lame people had? Think about how filthy were the garments they had to be wearing. Yet they are all washed clean in the waters of baptism, fed to satisfaction on the Bread of Life.
If by now you’re thinking that the beggars, prostitutes, criminals, blind and lame are you and me, well, now you’re beginning to understand what Jesus is getting at. Our sinfulness leaves us impoverished, and hardly worthy to attend the Banquet of the Lord. It would only be just for our God to leave us off the invitation list. But our God will do no such thing. He washes us in the waters of baptism, clothing us in Christ, bringing us to the Banquet, and feeding us beyond our wildest imaginings. We come here desiring to be spiritually fed, and our God offers us the very best: his own Son’s body and blood.
[Today we join with our RCIA candidates for full communion, who are themselves answering the king’s invitation tonight. They are one with us in baptism already, and in the days to come will complete the formation that will bring them along with us to the table of the Lord. Their presence here stirs our own hearts, reminding us to keep that wedding garment pristine, and approach the Lord’s table with renewed love and devotion.]
As we come to the Banquet today, we must certainly be overjoyed that our names are on the list. We have been summoned and the banquet is prepared. Now we approach the Banquet of the Lord with gratitude for the invitation, which is certainly undeserved, but just as certainly the cause of all our joy. We sing this joy with our Psalmist today: “Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.”