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October, 12 2017

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Reverend Richard Eslinger

 

Today is a feast of the feasts.  The prophet Isaiah and this parable of our Lord both speak of the Kingdom of God as like a glorious feast.  In the fullness of time, they both proclaim, God is going to throw a huge banquet, a wildly lavish feast.  Isaiah offers the menu—

             A feast of rich food and choice wines,

            juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.

 In our Lord’s parable, he adds that the fullness of God’s reign will be like a wedding banquet, like a wedding banquet given by a king for his son.  And immediately we think of the heavenly banquet with the church as the bride of Christ.  The feast is provided for all people, Isaiah promises.  All people and all nations.  A glorious heavenly banquet and all are invited.

      The problem is, the parable goes on to say, that not all are even interested in coming.  In fact, those with the most special invitations seem the least interested in even sending an RSVP.  Servants are dispatched to invite the guests, once, twice, but they refuse to come.  “Everything is ready,” they announce on behalf of the king.  “Come to the feast!”  But the response is one of apathy.  It’s not that they have some else that is really special to do, something that equals the glories of this wedding feast.  No.  They just go on doing what they have been doing,…at a business, on the farm, you name it.  There once was a time when church folk would complain that every once in a while something would keep people from attending Mass (Sunday services), something like the Super Bowl or some other big event.  Well perhaps.  But by now, the situation in a lot of parishes is like that in the parable.  People don’t need a big event to keep them from the Lord’s Feast; they just go on with life as if there is no King, no Son, no banquet.  “Practical atheists,” one writer commented about them.  Life lived as if fast food is as good as it gets and the idea of a kingdom feast is one with an obsolete shelf date.  So many don’t come to the banquet.  They have no interest in joining at the meal.  There is no glorious feast that then resonates through all of life giving it meaning and savor. Life simply goes on and on until it stops.         

      Now in the face of all this apathy, the question arises as to the response of the king.  I mean, he is pacing there in the palace with all this rich fare piled high on the banquet tables and nobody has taken up on the invitation.  Some just go on with life as they know it while others even mishandle the servants who bring the good news.  Some, they even  kill.  The king in the parable is like an oriental despot, it seems.  He retaliates with swift retribution.  The murderers are killed and their city destroyed.  Which among other things does set up a new question—just who will the king invite now to the banquet?  And the answer to that question comes quickly.  “Go out, therefore, into the main roads,” announces the king, “and invite to the feast whomever you find.”  The name tags are taken off the tables, torn up, and thrown away.  Meanwhile, the servants are collaring everybody they can get to—not even worrying about how they look or what kind of moral reputation they have.  Good and bad alike are gathered into the banquet hall.  Rascals seated next to saints, somebody on probation sitting next to someone from a nearby seminary.  The scene is amazing.  It is noisy and raucous and all that rich food is being gulped down and all that choice wine is being drunk, glass after glass.  It looks like a scene from some Monty Python movie.  Kind of crazy, this feast, bizarre even.  But there is not an empty seat in the banquet hall.  And the king is smiling with deep and joy-filled satisfaction.

      So here we are at the Eucharistic Feast of Christ.  Once again we have assembled, have attended to the Word and we will confess our faith, pray, and offer the gifts for the Holy Meal.  Oh, our Feast may not be as crowded as the one in the parable, and we probably bring a bit more decorum to the Table.  Still, just as Jesus said, we come from everywhere and saints and sinners are gathered together.  (And we are learning that it is not our responsibility to divide the good among us from the bad, haven’t we?)  This Feast is the sign of that heavenly banquet where the host is also the Host and the choice wine is the cup of salvation.  One response to the psalm sings,

             O Jesus, gentle Shepherd and living bread:

            Feed us, guide us to the land of everlasting life.*

 This Feast is both sign and promise.  There will come a feast of rich food and choice wine for all peoples.  The kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet of the Son.  And we are blessed at this Eucharistic Feast by the presence of our gentle Shepherd who is the living bread.  This banquet does resonate through all our living and it is the sure promise of everlasting life.  How blessed are we who have been invited into this banquet hall!  How undeserving of such mercy and grace.  How filled with joy at this Feast of the kingdom.

      But one note seems out of tune in the banquet song.  We heard in the parable about the rage of the king and his retribution against those who rejected the invitation and chose to stay away.  We even are unsettled by the fate of those who killed the servants of the king.  This monarch seems more like Sadaam Hussein than anyone we would call “God.”  But then, we have grown accustomed to equating the dominant figure in any parable with our God.  (How we can make that connection with the Parable of the Unrighteous Judge, though, is really to distort the gospel!)  What if Isaiah offers a vision of the kingdom of God that accords most fully with the gospel of our Lord?  In Isaiah’s Word, the feast is for all peoples, even for those who originally turned away.  And at that great Day of the Lord, what is destroyed is “the veil that veils all peoples.”  What is destroyed is death itself. 

             The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face;

            the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth.

 Our gentle Shepherd is revealed as the triumphant Lamb.  He takes away the sin of the world.  And of his kingdom there will be no end.

 *”Gentle Shepherd,” Fr.. Tobias Colgan.  © 1979 St. Meinrad Archabbey

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