Fr. Gregory Hallam · December 15, 2010
The banquet table is set and the invitation is from God Himself. How will we respond?
The parable of the supper or wedding feast is so modern it just jumps out at you. We recognise in the Gospel story our own experience of the different responses of people, and indeed of ourselves, to the call of God in the gospel. All the decent religious folk you might expect would reply to God’s invitation to the banquet and come along, one by one make their hollow excuses. They do so because they do not truly seek spiritual things, the affairs of God. They are enticed, satiated and then dulled by their worldly delights and commitments, (the field as an investment for example), the five yoke of oxen, (in the interpretation of the Fathers, representing the clamour of the 5 senses), and their inability to give God his rightful and first place, (I have married a wife).
St. Gregory the Great further comments on this gospel that spiritual things are at first distasteful but on partaking further they delight and lead to a greater hunger for God; whereas worldly delights at first attract strongly but then fail to satisfy and indeed lead to bondage. There is a kind of addiction in pursuing worldly concerns for a man feels that if only he could get just enough, just a little bit more, he would never want again. There is an infinite desire planted in humans that they are responding to, but, acknowledged or not, this is for God and God alone and any attempt to substitute worldly and finite things for the infinite life of God always leads to bondage and despair.
The sad thing is that the people who make excuses for not seeking after God and his righteousness truly believe that God is bought off and satisfied with their petty little and apparently (to them) plausible speeches and excuses. They have perhaps so convinced themselves of the rightness and indeed morality of their choice that they think strangely that even God would have to agree. In this, they place themselves in charge of their lives instead of God.
We should notice a few other often neglected details of this parable. Firstly, it is a supper to which the guests are invited, not a dinner. This is significant. The Bridegroom, that is Christ, comes at night… not in the middle of the day. The supper is the last meal of the day. There is no meal after that. This is the final chance to sit down and eat with the Saviour. We know not when our final meal invitation will come. Woe betides us if we build and fill our barns and have no thought for either the morrow or God. If we come not in now and dine we may be forever excluded BY OUR OWN CHOICE. The invitation is pressing and urgent. We dare not prevaricate, delay, justify our inaction. We must rise immediately and bring our wedding garment, our faith, to the supper and sit down and eat.
Secondly, we notice a strange word in the invitation the Master of the supper (that is, God) gives to those in the highways, byways and lonely places (after that is, the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind have come in). He instructs his servants to “compel” them to come in. Now, he could have compelled those who had rejected the invitation in the first place, but they had already made their choice and God will not override that. We can assume that those well outside the Master’s house would not have dreamed of thinking that the invitation was meant for them… but it was… so these can be fruitfully compelled because they always wanted to come in, but were kept out by the rejection of others and their own humility. The fruit of such humility in the outcasts is a great joy in acceptance by God. The fruit of wilful pride and arrogance amongst those who rejected the invitation is to be cast out. My oh my!... the surprise on the faces of the proud as the humble pass them by going in as they in turn are on their way out!
The Church as the body of Christ follows the practice of her Lord in welcoming the outcasts, the sinners, those who are excluded by others and themselves. To such belong the Kingdom of God and the marriage Supper of the Lamb. The whole of Christ’s ministry in reaching out to humble sinners confirms this. He never turns anyone away who comes to him but with his Father’s heart joyfully welcome all those who will come back home and feast.
This attitude of Christ toward the humble sinner must, in the first instance, be how we see ourselves responding to his invitation… not with excuses, pride or indifference but with a deep sense of gratitude that we are loved and accepted by God, knowing precisely and honestly in our hearts that we have no RIGHT to be here but rather that we dine on Christ’s love by the mercy and grace of God alone. We must maintain this attitude in respect of others who especially in the eyes of the world have been falsely denied a place at the Master’s Table. There is no qualification for entering the Kingdom of God other than repentance, and if they have that, there are welcome here as well.
So the supper invitation lies on the table right here and now. It will remain here until we pick it up and do something about it. There will then be given to us a veritable pack of invites… to go out and compel any who will to come in. We are to paraphrase the words of another, “beggars telling the starving where to find bread.” So, let us with a great company sit and eat at Christ’s Table, partaking of the Heavenly Bread and the New Wine of his resurrection, which are His Body and His Blood.