A Feast of Reconciliation
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year. Fr Allan White discusses the terms on which we participate in the Eucharistic banquet.
Jesus was not averse to parties. His opponents criticised him as a ‘good time guy’, a glutton and a wine drinker. They did not like the company he dined in: sinners and outcasts. He did not always wait to be invited either. He asked himself to the house of Zacchaeus, the chief tax-collector in Jericho. The presence of Jesus at one of these dinners was a reconciling presence. Jesus said ‘salvation has come to this house’ when he went in to dine with the sinner Zacchaeus. It is no surprise then that some of the stories Jesus tells should be about eating, drinking, celebrating and banquets.
Today’s story is not just about a wedding banquet but about a royal wedding banquet. At the recent marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the newspapers were desperate to discover the invitation list. Clearly they were highly-prized and to receive one was a mark of distinction. The same does not appear to be true of this wedding. Those invited would not come even when told the menu. The guests did not make polite excuses they went out of their way to show that they had more important things to do. They insulted the king and his family and went further by killing his messengers, abusing the law of hospitality themselves. Not surprisingly the king was a little upset at this. But why?
Royal marriages often sealed political and diplomatic alliances. They were instruments of foreign policy helping to bring peace and reconciliation between those who had been enemies before. This marriage should be seen in the same way. It is given by the king for his son. The son is not otherwise important. The king seems to have issued the invitation three times. He has invited the guests, sent his servants to tell them all is prepared and then sent them out again with a list of the delicacies they will enjoy. The king has been patient and gracious. He invites his guests to share in this process of peace and reconciliation. They refuse. They do no wish to share in it and therefore oppose it.
The king then sent out more messengers and invited all of those who were willing to come. The messengers do not mention the menu again so maybe those accepted who were sensible of the honour of being invited. They also seem to have understood the purpose of the feast. They all put on their wedding garment; all except one man. Immediately on entering the banquet king’s eye fell upon him. Calling him ‘friend’ he asked him why he was there. It is the same question Jesus asks Judas when they come to arrest him on the night of the agony: ‘Friend, why are you here?’ Two banquets are brought together, the banquet of the Last Supper, the passover of the Lord which brings reconciliation between humanity and God, and the banquet of the king who was also offering a banquet to promote peace and reconciliation.
Many interpretations of this parable can be offered. Some see it as a proclamation that the Gentiles will be included in the new covenant of reconciliation. Others see this story as a warning to the Church and those who think that they are numbered amongst the elect whilst failing to change their lives from the root outwards.
The marriage supper of the Lamb is a feast of reconciliation; those who share in it must also share in that project of peace and reconciliation. The silent guest, the one who has not bothered to change, the one who is concentrating on receiving, has forgotten that this feast is not just about eating or benefiting from hospitality. Sharing in this banquet is about becoming part of the grand work of reconciliation that the heavenly bridegroom inaugurates on the cross and which will be consummated in the heavenly banquet of which our Eucharist is a sign and anticipation.