A Rich Banquet
Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year. Fr Martin Ganeri confronts the shocking language of Christ’s preaching.
‘I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding.’
The parable of the marriage feast for this Sunday is certainly very vivid and engaging. It is also very challenging. It all seems so exaggerated and unreasonable. All the parables that Christ teaches are meant to set us thinking and to ask questions about what they really mean – meant to make us feel a little uncomfortable. And this is certainly true of this parable.
For one thing, why do those who are invited to the marriage feast react so violently? Why did some react by beating up and killing the servants who bring them the invitation? What’s the sense of doing this? Likewise, the reaction of the king is so extreme. Punishing the wrongdoers would have been reasonable, but destroying the whole city seems to go a bit far.
Also challenging is the whole business with the poor person who turns up without a wedding garment. An open invitation has been given to all at the very last moment and so he goes along, only to then find that he’s being taken to task for not having got dressed up, and then bound up and thrown out into the darkness. Wouldn’t it have been a bit less extreme just to have politely pointed out that there was a dress code and told him just to go away?
So, what are we to make of it all? How are we to react?
Certainly, with this parable, we are once again made to think about what it means to reject Christ and his offer of salvation. The Son in the parable is Christ and his marriage feast is the salvation that Christ offers. Although we may want to appreciate the reasons why people do so, it remains a shocking thing to do to reject the salvation that God offers to us in Christ. Rejecting the Gospel is as shocking as the reaction of those who reject the marriage invitation in the parable.
And it is shocking because of what the offer of salvation itself is. And here the image of the marriage feast itself is so powerful. We are being told that salvation in the here in now and then in its fullness in the next life is like both a marriage and like a feast. As the passage from Isaiah also tells us. The redemption of God’s people is like a ‘banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of food rich and juicy.’ This is as hearty as it can get.
This parable then and the Bible as a whole tells us that salvation is the fullest and most enjoyable experience of human living that there can be. The incentive to seek salvation and to respond to God’s offer of salvation is because of the positive delight that it will bring. And there’s no more powerful way to convey this message than teaching us through those human means by which the fullness of life can be enjoyed, through marriage, through feasting, through good food and good wine.
And this salvation is what is tasted already in the Eucharist, the sacred banquet, to which we are invited in this life. ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.’ The Eucharist is the marriage feast of the Lamb of God, to which we are invited each day of our lives in the here and now. ‘O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory given to us.’
The exaggerated language of the parable compels us, shocks us, to see the magnitude of what the offer of God’s salvation is like in all its abundant richness. To see what is being refused or what is being accepted.
And the imagine of the guest who is rejected also challenges us to see, shocks us into seeing, that the full enjoyment of this abundance can only come about when we become fit for it. For we have to made ready to receive it by Christ, who gives us the wedding garment of his saving grace.