Meals with Jesus
The Great Feast
As we continue to look at 'Meals with Jesus', this month towe are thinking about the parable of the Great Banquet. Perhaps this is an appropriate subject for a time of year when we are being assailed by advertisements urging us to 'plan our Christmas menus.' We look forward (or perhaps not) to entertaining and, if we are lucky, to being entertained at this most social time of year.
This parable is recounted by both Matthew and Luke and although there are different details, the parable is clearly the same, with the invited guests declining to attend at the last moment. Our understanding of this story is not helped by the fact that the social customs prevalent at that time are quite alien to those of today and probably never occurred at any time in our culture. To be invited today to a formal event of importance on a particular day but with no time stated is a recipe for confusion.
The picture is the same in each story. Invitations had been sent out to certain guests to attend a banquet or perhaps a wedding feast. Each guest had accepted and the custom was that on the appointed day, the guests would await the summons of the host's servants when the feast was ready.
The prudent and considerate guest would be found dressed and waiting. However on this occasion, none of the guests was able to attend, for various valid reasons, but to decline at the last minute was considered the height of bad manners. As a result, the host ordered his servants to go out into the streets of the town and find people who were willing to come. They did this and still there was room. They were sent out to the country lanes and byways and eventually the company was complete.
Both Matthew and Luke tell the story with the same meaning. The Jews had rejected God's intervention in sending the Messiah and so the invitation went to the Gentiles and not the chosen people. Matthew sets the parable firmly in its historical context. The original parable as Jesus told it did not contain the awkward verse 7. This is Matthew showing how the Jews were punished, as he saw it, by failing to accept God's invitation. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem. Matthew's gospel was written in AD 80-90; the destruction of Jerusalem had taken place in AD 70.
There is so much to be learnt from this parable. It was a part of Jewish teaching that on the occasion of God's intervention in history there would be a great feast. The Jews were waiting for this but did not accept that the intervention had already taken place in the person of Jesus. Hence the invitation to sinners and Gentiles, people who did not expect to be invited. It was a manifestation of the free grace of God. These guests came empty-handed and their hands were filled.
Matthew then adds the story of the man who had no wedding garment. We all make ourselves at least clean and tidy to fulfil even the simplest and most informal invitation; for a grand affair we may go to considerable trouble. It is all a question of showing respect and gratitude to our hosts. To wish to do honour to the occasion shows an attitude of mind. It has been suggested that there are garments of the mind and the soul not just garments for the body.
The celebration of communion is often referred to as a feast, in hymns and in a liturgical context. We receive the invitation of Christ when we come to worship or to take communion. For those of us who normally attend services of communion, this can become a matter of habit and it is easy to allow the familiar music and the beautiful words to wash over us.
Once upon a time in this church, a service of preparation for communion would be held on the Friday evening preceding the quarterly celebrations. Perhaps we should do the preparation ourselves in the privacy of our own homes. Then we might come having prepared our minds and spirits for the importance and significance of the occasion by putting on the right garments of repentance, thanksgiving, reverence. Perhaps if we did, our worship would be of a life-changing quality which would spread out to affect the life of our church and community.
William Temple once wrote: 'Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of the imagination with his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose; and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy of that self-centredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin . . . '
May God help us so to worship him in spirit and in truth.
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