I remember festive dinners at my grandparents’ house when I was growing up. Every Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, there would be food galore. All the meat was on the stovetop: a turkey or two, plus ham, plus chicken, and two kinds of dressing. The kitchen table had all kinds of vegetables, and the chest freezer was covered with desserts. And my grandma always had a big basket filled with sfinciuni, a Sicilian type of focaccia. We were always around 50 people. There was a pile of plates on the table, many with little chips or cracks, and once you filled your plate you would go find a place to sit—in the dining room, or the living room, or on the front porch. It was a wonderful celebration of family and food. I think of those kinds of dinners every time I hear that beautiful reading from Isaiah. It’s a powerful story. In the previous chapter he speaks of desolation; then God acts, and we have a huge banquet of rich foods and well-aged wines. It is life to the fullest.
Jesus seems to have been greatly influenced by Isaiah. When he begins his ministry, he reads from Isaiah as his “mission statement.” He often speaks of the Reign of God with banquet imagery. Today again we are presented with a parable about a banquet… and for the fourth Sunday in a row, the invited (expected) guests are not the ones who get in. Instead, Matthew tells us that the king has his servants invite everybody they run across. He wants to fill his banquet hall! Coming into the banquet, however, has a requirement: a wedding garment. Even though at first glance this sounds harsh, it really isn’t. Instead, everybody in those days either had a special garment for weddings and other festivities, or else they received one at the door. This is about the person deciding not to conform. Some scripture scholars speak Jesus making the distinction between accepting all persons and condoning all behaviour. All are invited; all are also invited to respond with righteousness. In the same way, I think today Pope Francis is inviting all. He also calls us to respond in love. Once we’ve been nourished so abundantly at the Lord’s banquet, how else can we respond?