Ars Praedicandi: The Pledge of the Eternal Banquet

“The Pledge of the Eternal Banquet”

Appointed Lessons:

Colossians 3:4-11
Luke 14:16-24

Perhaps more than any other time of year, as Christmas approaches, we are inundated with stories. Many of these stories are familiar to the general population: the Christmas Carol, how the Grinch stole Christmas, the story of the night before Christmas, and the numerous glimpses of Jesus’s birth conveyed to us through the beautiful tradition of Christmas caroling. The culture around us also tells us stories: besides the nonstop ads for Star Wars, we see images of ideal family life and the ideal Christmas presented to us on our televisions, tablets, and the screens of our smartphones. Each image conveys a message with its own variant on what Christmas means.

Christians have been concerned about the transformation of the season of Christmas to a consumer’s paradise for years, which has resulted in countercultural competition from the well-made historical video of what Jesus’ birth probably looked like in The Nativity story to the campaigns to “keep Christ in Christmas.” For many of us, we just have to endure and survive this season, to make it to the holiday. As we struggle to filter what’s important through the barrage of messages, let’s take a few minutes to consider what God is telling us in the story of a great banquet. For this parable of the great banquet conveys the real meaning of Christmas to us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciple a parable about a man who hosts a banquet; but those invited are too busy to come. So the man sends his servants to find the poor and the maimed to attend, and yet there is still room. Ultimately, the man sends his servants to the highways and hedges to fill up the space for the banquet. He ends by saying that none of those who were invited will taste of the banquet.
This story is appropriate for us in so many ways as Christmas approaches, but for us to really hear God’s word, we have to get beyond what sounds like a depressing message. I realize that this message could hit home; it certainly does for me, because, my friends, I am so busy and I can find lots of excuses to decline invitations. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that my excuses are legitimate. And it may even be that the excuses of busyness offered by those who declined the man’s invitation were also legitimate.
But this parable is not about us. And that’s a healthy dose of the reality of the meaning of Christmas: it’s not about the grandiosity of the party we throw; the man in the parable is the image of the God who wants to host us at his banquet. It is the image of the God who wants to feed and nourish us; it is the image of the God who reaches out to us and takes the initiative for us to encounter him, so that we might enjoy what our ancestors once enjoyed and longed for: to be with him, to live in his garden, and to play there with the joy of children. It is the image of the God who has space at his banquet for everyone; those would normally not be on the banquet VIP list are invited, and God goes out to the borders of the entire world to invite those who aren’t too busy to attend eternal banquet. God’s disappointment becomes manifest when it is clear that we don’t want to be with him because we have better things to do.

We are given this reading from the Gospel of St. Luke prior to feast of Christmas as perhaps one of the most precious Christmas gifts one could receive. Jesus’ parable introduces to us the image of the God who will humble himself in order to restore broken communion and bring all of humanity into his home. We are stunned by the voluntary humility of God’s divine son, who is the author of our life and the creator of the universe, and who willingly accepted crucifixion – humiliating, public “capital punishment” via death on the cross – to be with us. God sent his son, Jesus, to take on human flesh and live a human life – by living in the human community, breathing our air, eating our food, Jesus brings God to us so that we could be a community: humanity living with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If today’s parable presents an image of God who desires us, who will go to the ends of the world to bring human beings to him, what can we say about our desire to be with God? The Gospel asks us to consider a fundamental question of Christianity: do I want to be with God? Do I want to be with God, to live in his kingdom, his divine community, forever? It is helpful to take account of how we live, to measure our desire to be with God.

Do we make time each day to pray in silence, to hear God speak to us through his holy word? Do we avoid worshipping graven images and honor God alone, or do we invest ourselves solely in the next house, car, boat, television, tablet, smartphone, gadget, or toy? Or worse, do we forsake the gift of community in our mothers, fathers, spouses, and children, and look for people who are fresh and new? Do we replace God by indulging in savory foods and stimulating drinks, to the point where the end of the first meal just runs into the beginning of the next one? Finally, do we honor the presence of God in the people with whom we keep company? Do we love all of our brothers and sisters, or do we exploit their weaknesses for our gain? Do we refrain from speaking ill of our neighbors, or do we eat their flesh by speaking ill of them and delighting in the weapon of the tongue, which produces gossip? When St Paul commands the Colossians in today’s letter which we heard, to put to death slander and indulgences of the flesh, he is just trying to tell them to put a stop to idolatry, to stop worshipping the little gods we so easily and happily construct who distract us from the one God who will make space at his dinner table to all who are willing to come. Through the holy words appointed for this day, our Lord is asking us to consider how much we want to be with God, because if we want to be with him for eternity – forever and ever – we are obliged to commit to loving all of his children. As we all know, this is much easier said than done, and it requires work, patience, and the kind of cultivation of our hearts that makes us inexhaustible sources of love, a love that we willingly pour out for others, over and over again, even if it costs.

Brothers and sisters, we are already in the process of accepting God’s invitation to dine at his royal banquet, and this is something we receive freely, from God, every time we come forward to receive his body and blood at holy communion. Before we receive communion, we pray that our participation would be a “pledge of the life to come.” It is essential that this participation be manifest in the way we live, in our homes and schools, in our interactions with others, so that we demonstrate that observing some aspect of the fast is not a decision to become a temporary vegetarian, but to acknowledge that we can live on less and become more aware and appreciative of the God who gives us life; it should demonstrate that exchanging the kiss of peace is not merely a quaint ritual we perform in Church, but it shapes our desire to heal the divisions we have with others and return to communion. Finally, our participation will be a pledge of the life to come if we are willing to take concrete steps to help the poor and the sick, and honor them as God’s worthy children, even if society has deemed them unworthy. As Christmas draws near, let us make the work of loving others and honoring God the realization of our pledge of communion; if we do, we will remain on the steadfast path to eternal life lived with God, the fulfillment of this pledge; and the story of Jesus’ birth, which has enchanted the world for centuries, will obtain even more power to save humanity by the grace and love of God, so that each soul in this world would have a space at his eternal banquet table.

2 comments

  1. For those who are looking:
    The 1st reading is from Wednesday of the 23d Week in Ordinary Time (yr 1).
    This gospel is from Tuesday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time (both yrs).

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