BANQUETS AND INVITATIONS TO BANQUETS HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

 

jewish banquet2

Once upon a time, there were two friends. What actually brought them together as friends was their mutual ground with poverty. They do menial jobs when they could find one in order to eat. At a time they started attending weddings and other parties uninvited. Often they get turned down at the entrance. Often they beg the ushers to allow them to get a little standing space so that they can at least be served a plate of food. After sometime, they became well known as intruders into parties and would often get insulted and ridiculed. One fact remained very vivid; they were easily identified by their poor dressing.

 One day, a man whom we can consider wise saw them battling with ushers as they were struggling to enter a wedding banquet hall. The man was well dressed, calm and recollected. In fact seeing him alone would make an usher to give him access without asking questions about his invitation. They were exchanging words with an usher who insisted that they should step aside because they had no invitation to the banquet. They had presented invitation cards but the usher turned them down saying that they don’t appear like those invited by the rich host.

As this exchange of words was going on, the well-dressed man called them aside and whispered said to them in a low tone: “You are addressed the way you dress; if you dress well you will be addressed well think about it!” It was later that these two friends discovered that the well-dressed man is as poor as them but he always borrowed good clothes to attend banquets and parties and he was always given access…YOU ARE ADDRESSED BY THE WAY YOU DRESS…! We shall come back to this.

 

Banquets are elaborate meals put together to celebrate some remarkable events or persons. Banquets are generally marked with extensive merriment. There are usually so much to eat and drink. And music and other forms of entertainment are often used to add colour and gusto to the festivity. There are various reasons for banquets. It could take place to mark a wedding ceremony, a birthday or other anniversaries, a graduation ceremony or some other celebrative events.

There is another important component of a banquet and that is INVITATION. To attend a banquet one needs to be invited by the organizer or someone that he or she designates. In most civilized settings, invitations are formalised in form of cards and often they are required for admittance into the banquet hall or room. It is however worthy of note that in some rural settings, even in some urban areas, most people attend banquets without having a formal invitation; if you like such people invite themselves. This is understandable from the African community-based lifestyle where everyone belongs to the community and everyone has an automatic invitation to any celebration whatsoever.

In the First Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10a) we encounter a divine invitation for a banquet that is given to ALL PEOPLE (no one is excluded from the call). Notably, this banquet is prepared at a very unusual location; on a mountain! This “strange” banquet that will be activated on a mountain has a lot of things to offer. We are told by the oracle of the prophet Isaiah that there will be feast of fat things full of marrow and feast of choice wine well refined. It is very expedient to note that some important salutary things will happen before the meal:

  • The veil covering the people will be removed.
  • Death will be swallowed for ever.
  • The Lord will wipe away tears from ALL faces.
  • The reproach of the people will be taken away.

A closer look at the words of this passage is worth taking. The first thing that is striking here is that the banquet is meant to take place atop a mountain. The invitation is open to all, however to participate one has to take the pain of climbing the mountain. An average mountain should be about 1000 feet. Anything below 800 feet could be considered as a hill. Ideally, climbing a mountain is not an easy task, Jerusalem pilgrims who have attempted Mount Sinai could attest. It needs patience, perseverance and more importantly travelling light without a luggage.

Mountains are indeed very significant in the bible.  They are mentioned about 4254 times. They are used often to identify the presence of the Most High and most significant divine activities took place on the mountain. After the flood Noah’s ark rested on mount Ararat (Gen.8:4), God tested Abram on one of the mountains in Moriah (Gen.22:1-3), Moses received the Ten Commandments on mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12), Elijah won over the prophets of Baal on mount Carmel (1Kings 18:16-40), one of the temptations took place on a very high mountain (Luke 4:5-7) most of the important teaching of our Lord ( like the beatitudes) took place on a mountain (Matt.5:1ff), the transfiguration was on a mountain (Matt.17:1-8). There are still other instances.

It is important to understand that participation in the banquet would require physical presence; there will be no representation or proxy arrangement. This is largely because the spiritual “makeover” that will take place before the banquet as was outlined above would be a personal thing. For instance removing the veil and wiping tears away should be based on direct encounter with God not through an agent. This serves as a direct instruction to those who base their spiritual growth and development on others whom they consider men and women of God. You can also be a man or woman of God through your committed attention to God, your ability to climb the mountain. The priests and other religious functionaries are there to direct you to climb and not to climb on your behalf.

In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 22:1-14), our Lord Jesus continued the discussion on banquet in an attempt to describe what the kingdom of God looks like. In the past weeks, he has been using various images to describe the kingdom of God. The description today is very apt as it tallies with the banquet arrangement in the First Reading. A king graciously organized a banquet for his son to mark his wedding. It was meant to be an elaborate ceremony and the king was equal to the task. To have the banquet filled, he sent invitations through his servants to most of his friends and allies that he considered worthy of the invitation. He was sure that it was going to be a memorable occasion and he expected great responses.

Contrary to the King’s expectation, his servants came back with the bad news that his invitations were turned down. There were various kinds of excuses some of which sounded ridiculous like that of the man who (in the account of Luke account (14:19ff)) said he bought a cow. He was indirectly telling the king that his new cow is more valuable than him. Just as we often value our material possessions more than our closeness to God. Also another (according to the account of Luke also) said he just got a wife. He was indirectly telling the king that he has a relationship that is more valuable that the one he has with him. The same way we value some family, friends and colleagues more than God.

From the parable we also saw that those who were invited did not only turn down the invitation, they went ahead to molest the servants who brought the invitations to them. They even killed some of the servants. To this we could ask why? What is wrong in asking someone to come and eat and drink and make merry? Evidently they molested the servants and killed some because they not only didn’t want to go they also wanted to stop the invitation from getting to others. In few words, they wanted to kill the good news! This is often how we try in various ways to kill the message of God by our words and actions.

      The aggression against the message and the messengers was actually what stirred up the anger of the King as he responded by having those people killed and burned their city. Thus their own chapter ended drastically and those things that served as their excuses for not coming to the banquet could not even save them. Often we wrongly assume that our immediate material possessions and human connections would save us! No! Rather they would even disappoint us at needful times.

The parable did not end with the murderers. The word of God said: “his position let another take” (Psalm 109:8). This tells us that the banquet must be held and people must attend. Attentive to this, the king went ahead to tell his servants to go around the entire city and invite everyone both the good and the bad. His initial plan was to invite a few he considered good or worthy of the invitation. When they failed him he took the decision to make the invitation open to anyone that is available.

The twist in the second section of the parable came when the king came to welcome the people in the banquet hall that was filled to its capacity. Standing before him was a man who was not wearing the wedding garment. Put in another way, the man was not prepared for the banquet. He was a discordant note in the nuptial harmony. Why was the man different from others? Can we say he was an intruder since the instructions was that everyone was free to attend? The simple fact that the man was not properly dressed is a clear indication that he was not properly invited. Perhaps he saw some people moving towards a direction and he followed them without knowing where they were going and why. The king addressed him judging from the way he was dressed!

Often times some of us are like this improperly dressed man. We attend church not because we feel the need for God but because see others going. Sometimes we pray not because we see the need for prayers but because we see others praying. It is like attending a burial without knowing who died. The man in question was thrown out of the banquet when his oddity and disconnection from others became very clear.

The message today is very clear. We are being advised to climb the mountain of the Lord. Moses had to go up to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, Elijah had to climb mount Horeb to meet God, Peter, James and John had to climb mount tabor in order to experience the transfiguration. Today there is need for us to take the pain to climb. It involves dropping our luggage, it involves cleans hands and pure hearts (Psalm 24:4). It may be challenging but St. Paul in the Second Reading (Phil 4:12-14, 19-20) today assures us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength and also that God will supply all our needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus. On that mountain God will fulfil all the promises He made to us. When you start taking God serious He will start being serious with your affairs. You will be addressed the way you dress!

Have a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.

Fr. Bonnie

(fatherbonny@hotmail.com)

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