Matthew 22:1-14 by
The world seems to me to be divided at the moment between those who are fascinated by cooking and those who are not. In recent times cooking has become a spectator sport, with a new generation of cooks achieving rock-star status. You suspect they are chosen as much for their screen appeal and looks as much as their ability to cook. From the saintly serenity of Delia, the sultry Nigella and the bad boy Jamie they invade our screen every evening of the week.
Ironically, at the same time that people are spending hours a week watching other people cook; most of us are actually doing less cooking than ever before! In the era of supermarkets with ready prepared meals, time cooking is pared right down. Someone was telling me that some single person flats are now being built without a kitchen.
Until our age of microwaves, stretching back through time to Jesus' day lived, cooking was both time-consuming and hard physical work. The kind of royal wedding banquet which Jesus spoke of in the parable we read today, was not the one-off wedding breakfast of today but a lavish feast expanding over days, to which a whole community would be invited.
So the King in Jesus' story had spent a vast amount of human energy in making the feast and huge financial cost as well. Notice the reference to all the animals which had been slaughtered to provide meat. A great deal of valuable food was be expended, and food was life for these ancient agriculture based communities. The banquet of course stands for God's Kingdom, and Jesus was describing the casual way that many people responded to the Good News of salvation. The king's response to being snubbed and ignored was anger, hurt and betrayal, and suggests God's passionate desire to find and save his people.
The theme of the heavenly banquet appears many times in the Old and New Testament and you can see why. In those times, a banquet would be a place where usually underfed people would be treated to the finest, richest foods. It would be a place where it would be possible to totally relax and take a rest from manual labour. Small wonder that the feast would be a metaphor for the eternal presence of God. We do not know much about Heaven, except that it will be a place of joy, where our spirits will be eternally fed by the nearer presence of God, and that in His presence we shall at last be the people that God has destined us to be, with our human defects and desires put behind us.
As we long to take our places at the Heavenly banquet, we must remember that, in order to earn our places as guests, we have certain duties. Prime among them is the task of spreading the Good News to ensure that more people are invited in.
The last image of the man who was not invited, is a frightening and unpleasant one, but I don't think we can dismiss it. Jesus was trying to warn us of the stark reality of rejecting his invitation - that the absence of God is to be in a cold, dark and chilling place, in this world and the next.
We know that Jesus loved to eat and drink with those He met, extending the warmth of his welcome to those considered unsuitable company for a man of God. This reminds us that, thankfully, we do not have to be perfect to come to His table but we have to accept the invitation and try to be worthy of it.