I can’t resist free food. I can blame my Dad, because I’m a chip off the old block. Anytime we go to a dinner of any sort where there is “all you can eat”… I do… eat all I can.
I’m guessing it’s because my Dad grew up in a fairly poor home who had a mentality born of the Great Depression…I’m sure many of you are familiar with this mentality. Hunger was a way of life. Food was hard earned… you didn’t waste what you had – and you by-golly NEVER turned down free food. And if there are left-overs, always be first in line to take some home…
…and be last in line to take whatever is left!!
That’s probably not TOO far off of how people would have felt in Jesus’ time. Food would have been their main preoccupation of every day… tilling soil, taking care of livestock, picking food, preparing food, and still you would go to bed with a growl in your belly.
That’s why that first reading uses the imagery of a great banquet as the promise that God was making to bless His people. When you’re starving, nothing sounds better than “The Lord…will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines,”. Nothing could BE better than that – and if you were invited to that feast, there ain’t NO WAY you would turn it down.
Which is one of the reasons the Gospel is perplexing… OK, there are a lot of reasons the Gospel is perplexing….but let’s start here. Jesus uses a lot of exaggerations to drive home a point. First – the people standing in front of him would have been shocked that the people in the parable had rejected a feast. That’s just plain silly. In fact, remember when Jesus fed the 5000 and the next day the crowds came back… maybe even bigger crowds – because they were HOPING he would do it again! They weren’t necessarily wanting more of what Jesus SAID – but they were looking for the free food – just like my Dad… and me.
Jesus’ exaggeration is pointing out that the King had offered the people the greatest blessing possible… this wasn’t just free food – it was the best food – and it wasn’t just ANY feast – this was a banquet for his Son! This would have been the social event of the Decade… everybody would have been stumbling over each other to be invited to such a prestigious event…and they had rejected it. Do you see how silly that is?!
Yet, God has prepared the great banquet for all of us – but many who were invited didn’t come. He has prepared the BEST of food for us on this altar here – the body and blood of His only son – the Bread of Life. The invitation has gone out to the world – but where is everybody? As it says in the Gospel:
- “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”
- I just felt like sleeping in this morning
- I’ve got plenty of food in my refrigerator at home, I don’t need communion
- My kid has a soccer game today, so I just can’t make it to church
The parable foretold that this would happen.
But the GOOD news is that God keeps inviting…that’s good news for us because when the Jews rejected the invitation, WE got invited. God will stop at nothing to fill His great banquet honoring His Son.
He has continued to invite throughout the centuries. 100 years ago, He sent Mary to three young kids in Fatima, Portugal to invite everyone to the feast. Interestingly, the name Fatima was an Arabic name meaning “the shining one” and was the name of the prophet Mohammed’s daughter. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Mary chose this spot to appear? In the book of Revelation, Mary is the woman “clothed with the sun”... She IS Fatima: the shining lady. One of the things that made this vision unique was the miracle of the sun, which was seen by tens of thousands, including non-Christians. God was pulling out all the stops to get the attention of the whole world: the Catholic world, the secular world, and even the Muslim world. He WILL fill His banquet hall –and He invites the whole world to come to his altar for the great feast of His Son.
Now – if I were writing the Gospel, I would have stopped after verse 10:
“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. “ Matt 22:10
We LIKE that kind of God… he invites both the good AND the bad to his banquet. It means nothing is expected of us… we can be Bad and still get invited. It makes sense… God is Love… God doesn’t want anyone to suffer, right? That’s a great message – one we’d all like to hear – and one I’d like to deliver to you today…
Unfortunately, the reading continues – and we get to the part of the reading that NONE of us like…the King finds a guy who’s not wearing the right clothes and throws him into the night where “there is wailing and grinding of teeth”! What gives, God?
Well, true-enough, God DOES invite the good and the bad to His banquet, but I think this last part is to remind us that this banquet is not just free food…there are still expectations for everyone approaching God’s table. At first glance, it might seem like a reminder for us to dress up when we come to church. This is NOT the central message of the Gospel, but still we need to ask: does God really care what we wear to church? I think each of us has to decide that on our own… on one hand, I remember the people in Haiti who have nothing – but they still show up to Mass in the best clothes they have. I can’t help but think of Ruth, who used to sit right there, God rest her soul… even with her body failing, she would be dressed for Mass as if she was headed to a great wedding banquet. I wonder: did she dress up so people would respect her? Or was this an outward sign of her respect for Jesus? In the end, we don’t dress up for God – He doesn’t need that… we dress up for ourselves! How we dress impacts our attitude and the attitude of the people around us.
We can all take that to prayer –– but like I said, that’s not the central message here…I think the deeper message is that when we come to eat at this banquet, there ARE requirements. We aren’t just “showing up”. We aren’t just standing in line for free food. Maybe this is Jesus’ way of reminding us that we must be clothed with the Grace of our baptism. You’ve probably heard of the phrase to be “in the state of Grace” – which means we have no mortal sin upon our soul. We are SUPPOSED to approach the altar in that state of grace every time – and as Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth, when we are not clothed in that Grace, we eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves.
Here’s the biggest challenge of all: We each have to consider where WE are in this parable. Are we the ones who rejected God’s invitation? Are we the ones who got invited because the first group didn’t show up? Or…are we the guy who just showed up for the free food and ends up thrown into the darkness?