You may have noticed that food and eating play an incredibly important role in Scripture. You can’t get very far reading the Bible before you come upon a story, or a saying, or an image, that somehow involves food or feasting. That’s true beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. In Genesis we are told that after God created the first human, God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed Adam, where he was to care for the garden, and might eat his fill of everything, except of course the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Scripture closes with God standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to open so that the Lord may enter and eat with us, and us with God. Between these two passages is a veritable Biblical guide to food and etiquette.
But like so much else in Scripture, food exists, not simply to fill our bellies, although it does. Scripture speaks of food as a sign, a symbol, a sacrament, of something much larger. This is certainly true in Isaiah, where the prophet declares that,
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
For Isaiah this feast of rich food and well-matured wine is a sign of something great and wonderful. It is a sign of things to come, when death, and tears are no more. We see this too in Revelation where the angel tells John to write, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Over and again food and feasting are signs of God’s reign of justice, peace, and plenty to come, where the poor shall eat and be satisfied. As Isaiah reminds us,
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
It is with all this background in mind, that we read our appointed gospel, and we come to understand the parable not simply as an account of a great banquet, but a parable of the kingdom of God itself.
As simply a story of a dinner party, we are intrigued by the circumstances. We are curious about the menu. We are fascinated by the variety of excuses given by those invited, but who turn down the invitation. We are understanding of the host, who doesn’t want all that food go to waste, so he invites others to fill that hall. But I don’t think Jesus meant us to be intrigued, curious, fascinated, or understanding. I think Jesus meant his audience to be shocked, and horrified.
We all have turned down invitations to a dinner party before. We all have had our reasons and excuses. They may not involve property, oxen, or marriage, but they are excuses none the less, and they get us out of having to go to something that doesn’t interest us. As hosts, we may be disappointed that an invited guest can’t attend our banquet, but we understand and invite someone else to make up the numbers.
If this story was about that kind of dinner party, that would be the end of the story, and a highly forgettable one at that.
However, Jesus isn’t talking about that kind of banquet. He isn’t speaking of a casual social gathering, or a meet and greet, or even a fancy-dress event, with stiff collars and fabulous food. Jesus is speaking about the kind of banquet we read about in the prophets and the psalms. Jesus is speaking about the kind of marriage supper referred to in Revelation. Jesus is speaking about the kind of banquet that signals God’s reign, where justice, freedom, and mercy are restored, and where the Beatitudes are fulfilled. Jesus is speaking of a banquet that inaugurates to coming of the reign of God, a reign so needed in a broken, suffering, divided world. Jesus is speaking of a banquet that heals our divisions, sooths our suffering, and binds up what is broken. That is the great dinner our king has prepared for us tonight, and that is the great dinner so many continue to refuse to attend.
Now, as in the days of Jesus, as in the days of Isaiah, the world is broken, suffering, and divided, and so many long for justice, freedom, and mercy. So many long for healing, soothing, and binding. So many long to feast at the banquet of God’s kingdom. In the midst of this longing for God’s kingdom, so many refuse God’s invitation to a banquet where the poor, the grieving, the meek, the seekers after righteousness, the merciful, the pure hearted, and the peacemakers are blessed. And that is shocking. That is horrifying.
To reject God’s invitation to the heavenly banquet, is to reject the invitation to God’s kingdom of justice, peace, and plenty. And that is what this parable of the great dinner is about. It is not simply a story about a wonderful party, a generous host, and some rude guests. It’s a parable about how we, yes, we, sometimes reject God’s invitation, because we have just become property owners, bought some oxen, or have just been married. The cares and concerns of our place in the world distract us, and so we reject God’s invitation to join in the work of building God’s reign on earth, thinking our own empires are more important and more lasting.
But that is not how this parable needs to unfold. You and I don’t need to be those rude guests. We don’t need to reject God’s invitation. God does not need to scour the roads and lanes and compel others to take our empty places. Instead, we can accept God’s invitation. We can join God in the work for healing, soothing, and binding this broken, suffering, and divided world. We can become citizens of God’s reign of justice, freedom, and mercy. And it all begins here tonight, as we take our places as the Table of the Lord, and accept the offering of food before us, which is the very life, and light, and love of God, in the person of Jesus. Clothed then, with Jesus you and I can begin the work of building God’s reign on earth, which is what all these stories of food, and feasts are about.
 Genesis 2
 Revelation 3: 20
 Isaiah 25: 6 – 8a
 Isaiah 25: 8
 Revelation 19: 9
 Psalm 22: 26
 Isaiah 58: 6 – 9
 Matthew 5: 1 – 12
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