28th Sunday - A - 2017 Is. 25: 6-10 Phil 4 : 12-14, 19-20 Matthew 22 : 1-14.
We all have family photo albums. We treasure them, and to the extent, that in a house fire we would try to grab al least one. And in those albums there would be ones that are really special - our favorites.
I don't know what are yours. Mine would be those that bring back memories of gatherings around tables and meals - from birthdays to weddings and to all sorts of anniversaries. Indeed special moments are so often celebrated with a meal and table fellowship. Food shared in common has a special appeal. Seems God made us that way.
And that is why, so often use the image of the banquet to communicate God's provision and joy with God's people. Our first reading is a case in point. It's a picture of a whole family, gathered at one table, where there is safety, joy and abundance. And like a family patriarch/ matriarch, God gets such delight in welcoming the entire family back home.
So for a moment can we take a closer look at these pictures from God's family photo album:
Look at the menu. There is aged wine and rich food, including the fatty portions of the meat. That latter may not fit in well with our modern fixation for diets that are 'fat-free. But in the world of Isaiah's time, those portions were considered the best; they were reserved for temple sacrifice and then eaten by guess who? The priests!! But the point of this image is not the many dishes themselves, but that God - a loving parent - provides the very best and a real welcome back home for the entire family.
Notice the occasion for this great banquet. have you noticed how many times this text uses the phrase, all people; all nations; all the earth. This is the passion of our God - God's invitation is never exclusive. God desires everyone to be in communion. That is emphasized in the Gospel reading. Here is a parable that has as its centerpiece the words, everyone is invited.
We are cast in the role of the guests. And then come the questions. How will we respond? How do we respond?. The story provides us with several possible answers. I can ignore the invitation and shrug the shoulders in apathy. I can refuse the invitation and then offer a variety of excuses - 'I am having my hair done. I sleep late on Sunday mornings. The kids have sports commitments.; I would rather work overtime'. And God, despite our excuses keeps on offering the invitation.
Final thought. I said at the beginning, when speaking about family photo albums, that favorite memories occur around tables and meals. Well the central point of our Christian life of worship is a meal. At the centre of our faith-community life is the Eucharist. And we are invited to that meal, not because we are are saints with VIP tickets. I am invited and I accept the invite because I am a sinner who needs God's mercy. And I need family and community. I draw encouragement and motivation from the fact that Jesus so frequently shared meals and broke bread with the poor, the outcasts, prostitutes, tax-collectors and sinners. That truth was brought home to me several years ago when I celebrated Eucharist in a hospice for AIDs victims. When the time came for Communion I was really taken-aback when I noticed that someone prevented someone else from ' receiving'. I could do nothing about that then, but later I spoke to the person who did the preventing. I was told that she judged the other to be 'unworthy'. We dialogued about that. And I also spoke to the 'victim'. He shared his pain. He simply said, 'I'm lost, I am tired, I am dying . I just want to go home'.
Making the Eucharist a prize for the 'saints' and a punishment for the 'sinners' is heresy. It is a blatant reversal of the unconditional love which Jesus always offered and showed in practice.
We can learn a lot about the nature of God from these readings - that God does not coerce, conscript. God just loves us into the family. We can ignore, refuse oppose that invitation of love. But we will never outrun it.
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