Banquet of God
I. "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1).
Several months ago, England celebrated a lavish wedding reception for Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan. Some six hundred people were invited to Windsor Castle, to dine in a hall decked in gold and coats of armor. Served on the finest china, was an array of hors d'œuvres, Scottish smoked salmon, Windsor lamb, champagne and pistachio macaroons, and finally, a lemon and elderberry wedding cake decorated with 150 fresh flowers.
Every image and every attempt that we can conjure up of a banquet falls short of the wedding feast Jesus Christ has in mind. His favorite description of heaven is a feast, where everything is rich, refreshing and exhilarating. His is a feast that never ends. Joy and pleasure down here are merely shadows of true joy. Even the banquet at Windsor castle is a glimpse into the pleasure in paradise. What is this paradise? It is union with God, our source of joy and pleasure.
God offers this to all of us. Will we accept? Why do so many reject God? Why do I find myself, through so many moments in a day, indifferent to Christ? Why is it so hard to be still and pray? Why do we find as many distractions as possible, to simply shut our hearts to heaven?
God pours down his love like rain. But we hide beneath our umbrellas.
II. “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet” (Matthew 22:1).
Jesus Christ knows all this about human nature, and he tells us a parable to explain it. A king is hosting a feast, much like that of Harry and Meghan. The greatest food is prepared, the most lavish decorations are set up, and the invitations are sent out. The guests refuse to come. The king sends his servers to invite the guests personally. “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” The servers go, but not with success. Some were ignored. Others were beaten. “They made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them.” The king sends more servants, but this time into the streets and byways. The poor and the homeless were gathered up and ushered into the wedding hall. Even then, one man refused to wear the wedding garment. He was tossed out into the night.
III. Why do we resist God?
St. Paul describes a tug of war in our hearts. He writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…sin dwells in me” (Romans 7:15). We are torn. Part of us wants to rise, to do good, to reach for God. The other part in us doesn’t want to love. We want to be selfish, cruel and gluttonous. What is one of the first phrases a toddler learns? “Give me.” Socrates says the soul is like a charioteer with two horses: one is white and yearns to fly; the other is black and drags down into the mud.
I’m not just talking about sin. The sins we get most fascinated with, lust, greed, and violence, are the most boring parts of life. The real tug of war has to do with apathy. The Oxford dictionary defines apathy as: ‘Lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.’ In Greek, it means ‘apatheos,’ a passionless state. This is the greatest human sin – apathy to God. We don’t care. Or, we struggle to care. We may appreciate the idea of God, and all that, but we want to keep him at a distance.
IV. Why is this?
For some of us, we’re afraid to feel like we’re not in control. We prefer a senile grandfather in heaven, who sits upstairs and minds his own business. But God is our father. He pours out his love to us, and gently but firmly, helps make us into men and women.
At times, we avoid God out of shame. We’re afraid He won’t like us. We might put up a good front, but deep down, we don’t like ourselves. What, then must God think if I exposed my true self to Him? The answer is simple. God loves you. He finds you beautiful. He doesn’t love the masks you put up. He doesn’t love who you pretend to be. He loves you, your inner, secret self. If you dare to be real, you’ll see that all He ever wanted was you.
It may be that we’re afraid God will punish us. Scriptures say, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:6). When C. S. Lewis was a child, he’d often suffer a toothache for weeks before finally telling his mom. He wanted the pain to stop. Yet, he knew that when he told his mom, he’d find himself the next day at a dentist. The dentist wouldn’t be content with one tooth. He’d poke and prod every tooth. God will discipline us, but for our greater joy.
Most of the time, we reject God because we are simply too busy. Why, after all, did the invitees turn down the king? “They made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”
V. Isn’t that what we do?
We are not Christians if we don’t have a private prayer life. But when the alarm goes off, we have to choose between sleeping or kneeling. We are not living a Christian life without confessing our sins. But when it comes to the road trip or the thought of opening one’s secrets to God, a chore or television series becomes all the more pressing. God calls us. He offers us peace. He wants us to feast on Him, but “we make light of it.”
William Barry, a priest and psychologist, describes this tug of war in our hearts.
“There is in us some power that is inherently conservative; that wants the status quo to be preserved no matter how painful it is. I may be between a rock and a hard place, but it is my rock and my hard place, and I know how to cope with the situation. Leaving it is very difficult, no matter how painful it is to stay.”
We like the status quo. We’d rather stay out here, in the streets, in the drudgery of meaningless pursuits and hopeless romances, where everything fizzles out and dies. Meanwhile, the king’s servants call out to you and me: ‘God loves you. God wants time with you. Come, the feast is ready.’
VI. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2).
This is our gospel. Christ offers us the most radiant feast. He offers Himself. So, slow down. Dare to expose yourself to Him, not tomorrow, not next week, but now. Give your heart to God.