Sitting with Jesus and hearing his compelling teaching about the Kingdom of God, a Pharisee has blurted out, “Blessed is the person who will dine in the Kingdom of God!” (LK 14:15). Jesus rather than confirm that judgment, turns it into another parable of rejection. As we heard from the reading, the Messianic Banquet of the coming age is described by prophet Isaiah as, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (25:6). The banquet is also expressed in the apocalyptic Judaism as an expectation, “They will eat and rest and rise with that Son of Man forever” (1 Enoch 62:15) and practiced by the Essenes with instructions in their ritual meals. Luke continues this Messianic Banquet tradition, describing the Great Super as the banquet of joy opened for everyone. In Jesus’ presence, the time has come and everyone is invited to enter the Kingdom of God. However, the invitations are not accepted. The invitees rejected the invitations not because they do not like the host but because they do not understand the importance of the time. The Great Super suggests that a person could refuse the most important invitation of his or her life and not even recognize it.
In the ancient world, it was the custom when giving a dinner, to invite a certain number of people. Those who accepted the invitation were then counted. The meal was prepared according to the number who accepted the invitation. The more people coming, the more food had to be prepared. Once an animal has been killed it must be eaten soon or else it will spoil. Therefore, to back out at the last minute would be rude. The invited guest is duty bound to attend the banquet. The second invitation is a notification to the guests that the meal is ready. The meal has been prepared, the table set, and people notified. To back out now is an insult. Unfortunately, all the guests have actually made the excuses. They all decided together to shun the host; the reasons for the excuses are not clearly justified and blatantly flimsy. Angered for being insulted by the refusal of the guests for not only one but three times, the host then invites the unworthy, the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, and the undesirables. He commands to bring in the poor, who aren't normally invited to banquets; the crippled, who cannot test oxen in the field; and the blind and lame who don't normally marry. And there are still more seats, he compels all to come to his Great Super.
Luke’s Great Banquet is a metaphor for the great eschatological banquet of joy. Eating as portrayed by Luke played an essential role in Jesus’ life. His meals with the most diverse people, Pharisees, tax collectors and sinners, are a sign of welcoming love characteristic of the new time of God’s Reign. Jesus tries to make them see that the time for participation in this kingdom has come. Refusing to response to the call as the first invitees would incur a definite exclusion; their places at the banquet will be taken by others. It has been mistakenly understood that because of the refusal of the first invitees others are called to the banquet, people for whom it was at first not intended. This thinking would contradict Jesus’ message; the God whom Jesus proclaims does not turn to the poor because of the contempt of the rich. It is because God calls the poor to the banquet that the rich stay away, and not the other way around!
Dear brothers and sisters, the message of the Great Super parable continues to remind our community that God has loved us and gracefully invited us to his Great Messianic Banquet. We are not perfect; we are a mixed lot of people, “good and bad”, who God has granted permission to join God’s banquet. Are we still hungry to join the kingdom of god, still excited, amazed and feel unworthy to be counted as guests in the Lord’s Messianic banquet? Or have we already become like the invited guests in the parable who refuse the invitation for believing that we have done enough by scrupulously keeping the law and following regulations to gain our shares in this eschatological banquet. Yes, it is so easy to refuse the most important invitation of our life because we are so preoccupied with our wealth; business ventures or personal pleasures to perceive the gravity of God’s invitation.
As we come together to celebrate the Eucharistic Banquet, let us praise God for his wondrous love to us and his unceasing will to compel us into his Messianic banquet. Let us implore God to help us recognize the importance of God’s time and accept God’s invitation without any delay and hesitancy. Amen.
Deacon Vincent Thu Huu Dam