By Elaine Ramshaw
Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Proper 23, Year A
October 15, 2023
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. -Matthew 22:2
Matthew’s telling of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1-14) has been embroidered with other elements to turn it into an allegory of salvation history as the Matthean post-resurrection church understood it. Verses 6-7 make no sense as part of a story about a wedding party; they allegorize the Jewish leadership’s reaction to people such as John the Baptist, Jesus and some of his early followers. Verse 7 allegorizes the destruction of Jerusalem, which early Christians understood as God’s punishment on the Jewish leadership for their rejection of Jesus. Then, after the natural ending of the banquet parable with the hall filled with all sorts of guests (v. 10), Matthew turns to another story element, the unprepared wedding guest, to sketch in the future of salvation history; this represents the future judgment of guests, church members, who do not live out the Christian way.
By contrast, the parable’s version in Luke 14 is much more straightforward and emphasizes how the new banquet guests are the marginalized. However, a preacher could still talk about that idea by referring to the other Lectionary readings that speak of the meal that God plans to host. Isaiah 25 describes the eschatological feast on the mountain, and Psalm 23 speaks of God’s preparing for us a sumptuous table.
This confluence of images of the meal where God is the host offers the preacher a natural connection to stewardship. God’s hospitality, God’s strong drive to fill the house and feed many guests, is both a testament to God’s grace and a model for how we are called to extend hospitality to others. While Matthew’s version of the parable doesn’t make as clear as Luke’s that the eventual guests at the great banquet are the outsiders, the poor and the marginalized, that element is explicitly present in Isaiah 25, where God, the host of the future meal, is lauded as a refuge to the poor and the needy. In both Isaiah and Psalm 23, the ones God will feed are those who are vulnerable and living in the shadow of death.
We are the unworthy recipients of God’s gracious hospitality, and we therefore get to offer hospitality to those in need of it. We can live out this hospitality in many ways: by giving money and time in caring ministries, by participating in the work of social justice and advocacy for the vulnerable and outcast, and by caring for friends and family and neighbors in need.
The image of the great party, the celebratory meal, calls for our participation not as a burden or a grinding duty but as a source of joy. The hosts are meant to enjoy the party, too! So this call to stewardship and sharing with those in need is tinged with joy and even fun. We certainly are called to do hard things for others, not just convenient and fun things, since we are not yet at God’s end-time party. But the ultimate picture is not of self-sacrifice but of shared fulfillment and joy.
Picking up on the image of the meal, a stewardship focus in worship naturally revolves around the Eucharist. There are many ways that the connection between Holy Communion and the great banquet or mountaintop feast can be highlighted. Consider the hymns mentioned below in the “with Youth” section below. Some of the post-communion prayers from Sundays and Seasons connect Communion to the eschatological feast where all will be fed, and similarly make that the inspiration to go out and care for those in need. The preacher can say how at Communion we get “a foretaste of the feast to come,” a preview of God’s great party on the mountain where sorrow and hunger will be no more, and how that vision is what we are called to live into by our own advocacy, justice work, hospitality and giving to those in need.
There are songs and storybooks based on the banquet parable in Luke 14, a version of the parable without Matthew’s added sections meant as historical allegory for the destruction of Jerusalem etc., and thus probably closer to the parable as told by Jesus. But Luke’s notion that the banquet’s guests are the marginalized is picked up in this week’s readings from Isaiah and the Psalms. The song “I Cannot Come to the Banquet” (the Medical Mission Sisters, 1966) tells of all the excuses made by those who spurn the invitation. Bob Hartman’s The Fantastic Feast (London: SPCK, 2022) is a fine retelling of the parable with humorous illustrations. An excellent version of the parable for the very young is “When Lion Gave a Party” in Lois Rock’s My Very First Bedtime Storybook (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2004). All these emphasize that the host ends up welcoming all the outcasts, which is the stewardship message as kids can understand it: God as host invites the outsiders and the needy, including us when we are left out, and we are also called to invite the outsiders and the needy.
Explore with teens the image of the banquet in Isaiah 25 and in Jesus’ parables. How many other parables can they think of that involve a meal or a party, or calling the neighbors together to celebrate? Who gets invited to the banquet? What does this tell us about God’s hospitality and the hospitality that we need to live out? Look with them at how both the image of God’s great party and the imperative to invite the lost are connected to the Eucharist in hymns such as hymn No. 522 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, “As We Gather at Your Table” (especially verse 3) and No. 523, “Let Us Go Now to the Banquet.” How does Holy Communion invoke Isaiah’s feast on the mountain and the wedding banquet, and how does that image inspire us to work for justice for the poor and hungry? Look at ELW 479, “We Come to the Hungry Feast.” What do they think it means to call the Eucharist a “hungry feast”? How does this meal make us “hungry that the hunger cease”? Play a recording of Clara Ward singing “The Welcome Table.” How does the image of God’s banquet sound different when sung by someone who has experienced great injustice?