Many of us in Canada are preparing to gather with family to celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend; and for many, this celebration centres around a feast; we enjoy the bounty of the harvest of all kinds of food; we share that feast with those we love; we express gratitude for the many ways in our lives in which God has blessed us. When we are really conscious of the many blessings we have received, it tends to instil in us a true and honest humility; a humility that recognizes that everything we have – all our abilities, our talents, our successes – everything, comes from God. And that makes us deeply grateful.
A spirit of deep gratitude is one of the themes which is woven through the parable Jesus teaches in today’s passage from St. Matthew’s gospel. It is the parable of the wedding feast, put on by a king in honour of his son.
That gathering for a banquet, for a very important feast is a symbol that Jesus uses quite frequently in the gospels. The metaphor of a banquet is often used by Jesus to describe the kingdom of heaven – of being invited to intimately share the life of God. But unlike other places where He uses the wedding feast example, Jesus uses very extreme language in this parable – and the behaviour of those invited and the reaction of the king seem ‘way over the top’ – killing servants, burning cities, destroying murderers and so on…
The parallel Jesus draws to the treatment of the prophets of the Old Testament is very clear; but the reason He uses such extreme, even shocking language, is because He is stressing how important, even how urgent it is for those who are called by God to enter into that intimate relationship, to make certain they come to that ‘feast’ with a deep sense of gratitude. When those invited refuse the invitation, even going to extremes to do so – making excuses and rejecting and abusing those who speak God’s Word – they show their lack of gratitude for being invited by the king to this very special occasion. When the king opens that invitation wider, and sends his servants to gather everyone – complete strangers –the banquet hall is filled. The king doesn’t seem to be concerned whether it is his ‘A list’ of guests who fill the hall or the ‘B list’ – the hall will be filled one way or the other. But the parable doesn’t end there. There is one guest who is in the banquet hall, but is not wearing a wedding robe – is not ‘properly attired’ for this occasion; it is an insult to the honour of the host; for this insult, this person is cast out from the banquet; again, harsh language, but the message is pretty clear here, that ‘something ‘is expected of those who enter into this ‘banquet’ – this ‘ honoured’ place in that relationship with God.
If we are to share in this banquet, then we are to honour the Host. As Christians we do this by loving God with our whole being, and loving our neighbour as ourselves; and we can only genuinely do this when we are truly grateful to God for having called us to Himself, and truly humble recognizing that everything we have comes from God and we could do nothing without Him in the first place. If we think we are entitled to God’s blessings, or somehow God owes us His gifts because of who we are, then we are neither humble nor grateful.
We celebrate that relationship, that heavenly feast each time we celebrate the Mass; and at the heart of the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist – a word which means ‘Thanksgiving’. It’s all about gratitude- truly humble gratitude, recognizing that everything is ‘gift’. Even the Mass, when we commemorate Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, is a gift to us from Christ himself.
Receiving the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ within ourselves – as Catholics, He is that gift – more than anything else that we will give thanks for this weekend- Christ is that gift, for which we are most truly thankful.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!