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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Come to the Banquet!

"The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son." (Mt 22:2)

It is always amazing to note how often the Bible uses the setting of a meal to help us understand God’s care for us. Today is no exception. Both  Isaiah and Matthew tell of a grand banquet that God has prepared for us. In the gospel, however, God’s anger also emerges in two parts. First the King is upset that so many people who he invited to his son’s wedding banquet fail to come. It even seems likely that he sent wagons or a horse for them, and still they did not respond. The king is troubled a second time when he spots someone without a wedding garment, and it is this small detail that often fascinates and confuses us.

Why would the King, God, be so upset when someone from the highways and byways comes to the banquet without a proper wedding garment? St Augustine suggests that people were provided with a wedding garment at the door to the banquet hall and while this insight helps a bit, a further cultural factor seems to be at play.

There were two distinct kinds of feasts in the ancient world. The first known as a ceremonial feast would have been something a local political leader might host. He might invite people to the anniversary of his ascension to power, or the wedding of one of his children. Everything would be provided for his guests. They had only to enjoy themselves and be grateful. The second kind of feast was known as a ritual feast. A king or local tetrarch might host a ritual feast when his son came of age or entered the military. This kind of feast signaled a transformation in someone’s life, a time when new expectations were thrust upon the one being celebrated, a time to rejoice but also to change.

Today’s gospel seems to have elements of both kinds of feasts. The king is both honoring his son’s wedding, but also, and in a powerful symbolic way, he is ritually telling the poor that they belong, they count, they are persons worthy of honor. Anyone refusing to wear the wedding garment provided for the guests is not only dishonoring the king’s generosity, she is refusing to accept her designation as God’s child, and to change in gratitude for the gift of her own dignity and worth. While the gospel may be challenging Jews specifically who reject the Messianic identity of Jesus, it is also about all of us. We are God’s children, his beloved, his chosen one’s. In gratitude we must wear the wedding garment which symbolizes God’s love and assurance that we have great dignity, that we are the body of Christ, that we must go about in the world as disciples of the King and proclaim good news.

Do we accept God’s mantle of love that calls us to live a life of gratitude and service? If we do not then we place ourselves with the man who chooses to come to the wedding banquet, but is not willing to change. In fact, we condemn ourselves. It is not God’s generosity that is lacking, it is our unwillingness to accept ourselves as God sees us and live in gratitude.

Pray today to see yourself as God sees you, a person of great dignity and value. Pray too to see others as God seems them.

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