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The Messianic Banquet

Sermon #322 St. Martin’s #78 (Riverway) 10/15/23

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25:1-9

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘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.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:1-14

Biblical Lament

What in the world is happening in our readings today? I am going to try my best to explain the cultural context of both Isaiah's vision and Jesus’ parable this morning and see what we can glean from these passages.

But it is hard to hear Isaiah’s prophecy: “You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt” (25:2), and not think about the war between Hamas and Israel right now.

The destruction and death that is happening in the Holy Land has brought so much heartbreak to families; scenes so similar to Bucha in Ukraine for people who were simply going to a music festival, and buildings falling—whole neighborhoods leveled—as if an earthquake hit it.

And I’m saying all this from the safety of the other side of the world.

And so, before we delve into these readings, it’s important to understand the role of lament in Scripture (and our lives). Biblical lament is not just saying, “I feel bad for them,” and then going back to sipping on our coffee while scrolling on Instagram.

True lament is when we grieve, deep in our soul, for the state of this world, the hatred and anger that leads people to do unconscionable things to fellow human beings, and also the thirst we humans have for revenge.

Lament calls us to grieve the world we find ourselves in, but also long for God to make things right—where his righteousness will rule all people and all places. Where forgiveness is not cheap, and reconciliation only comes through contrition and repentance…and I’m not just talking about other people—somewhere out there—this includes us as well.

We too are caught up in this fallen world, and prayerful lament unites us with all those who grieve the state of our world and our own participation in that brokenness. But it also points us to the One who shall come with clouds descending and restore the world that he originally called good.

The Messianic Banquet Now, it is not surprising that a major theme for the Hebrew prophets was this same longing that we have for God to make good on his promise and set the world right…hopefully sooner rather than later.

Many of the Old Testament prophets pointed to that future day, and reminded people that no matter their present circumstances, all of history was moving toward “the Day of the Lord.” On that day, wrongs would be made right, and “justice [would] roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Lament can get deep in your bones, but so does hope.

Our reading from Isaiah 25, is a vision of this day at the end of the age, and Isaiah describes it in terms of an extravagant feast with plentiful food and fine wines: it’s a party, like no other party.

Isaiah’s vision captured the imagination of God’s people for generations thereafter. When they thought of the end of history—when God’s kingdom would finally be fulfilled—they understood it to include a banquet, with none other than the Messiah as the host. This became known as the “messianic banquet” (309).

But did you notice, tucked amid all the details about the quality of food and drink that will be provided at this eschatological feast (this end-time feast), Isaiah slips in the small detail that “all people” will be invited? Meaning Gentiles (those ritually unclean, pagan unbelievers) as well as the covenant people of God.

But as the centuries went on, the Jewish vision of the messianic banquet began to change ever so slightly. During Jesus’ day, a translation of the Hebrew Bible was being passed around in the common language of the people, which was Aramaic. This was the main language that Jesus and his contemporaries spoke, and this new translation was called the Targum.

The translators of the Targum felt they were at liberty to add their own words to the text, as a way of clarifying what the passage actually meant. For us today, the Targum gives us a clue as to how first-century Jews interpreted the Bible.

In the Targum’s translation of Isaiah’s messianic banquet, “all people” are invited to the banquet (including Gentiles), but the translator added, “And although they supposed it is an honor, it will be a shame for them and great plagues, plagues from which they will be unable to escape, plagues whereby they will come to their end” (310).

The Targum had completely changed the meaning and purpose of the messianic banquet. The banquet was a trap for those filthy unbelievers.

Another document was being passed around by the first century that also said that Gentiles would be invited to the banquet, but the angel of death would be present and would use his sword to destroy the Gentiles.

It even went into graphic detail, saying that the true believers would have to wade through the blood of the Gentiles in order to sit with the Messiah at the true banquet (Enoch).

Like the childhood game “Telephone,” which had gone terribly wrong, Isaiah’s original message—a message of hope for all people—had been distorted as it was passed down the generations.

By the time of Jesus, some 700 years after Isaiah, the good news of the messianic banquet had been limited to only the children of Abraham. The feast would end up being a judgment of death on all the other nations.

Jesus’ Parable You can then understand how surprised Jesus’ original listeners must have been when they heard him give a very different interpretation of Isaiah’s banquet. And that is what he’s doing in our gospel today, he’s reinterpreting Isaiah 25.

Looking closer at the parable, it is shocking to think in that culture that the invited guests would not attend. They would rather go work on their farm or at their business or attack the messenger who was so graciously inviting them to the king’s table.

What good is labor and work when history is coming to a close? These people in the parable are too self-absorbed to read the signs of the time. This kind of indifference and open hostility would’ve packed a punch with Jesus’ original audience. He knew how to get their attention.

But Jesus takes it a step further; if the invited guests won’t come then the party is open to the street people, the common folks, the outsiders, both good and bad; no RSVP needed. The king responds to the indifference of the select with the audacious welcome of the rest.

This parable is all about the overwhelming graciousness of God; the God who invites and calls us to his banquet, even if we are not literal sons and daughters of Abraham, those holding the RSVP or VIP pass.

But as the parable shows, this is also the God who lets us say no to him, so that we can continue to do the things we’d rather do. He has given us the freedom to walk away from him; to busy ourselves with the other work that we find important, and even the freedom to scoff at his gracious invitation.

All are welcomed to the feast, the door is wide open, and nothing is in our way…but the parable doesn’t end with, “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Instead, it ends with an odd interaction where one guest is not wearing a wedding robe, and because of this fashion faux pas, he is thrown into the outer darkness.

How is this any better than the Targum’s translation of Isaiah 25? Either way, you are doomed by plague or bound in darkness if you go to the messianic banquet.

Many theologians throughout the centuries have wrestled with this ending to the parable. What is the wedding robe that we should be wearing?

The Early Church thought it was holiness, St. Augustine said it was love, and the Reformers claimed it was faith…Can we just say yes to all of them? What is clear is that, though the door is wide open to get into the banquet, something is expected, even required, of those who wish to dine at the Lord’s Table.

One of the major themes the writer Matthew tries to make clear throughout his gospel is that genuine faith in Jesus is marked by a life of obedience.

Remember it’s his gospel that records the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn…but also: “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” It’s not just inherent qualities that we possess, but the accompanying actions that show that the Kingdom is bearing fruit in our lives.

Another way to think about this messianic feast is that it’s not a fully catered meal—wait staff and all. Don’t doubt for a second that this meal has a host. Jesus is sitting at the head of the table, but we are not only served at the banquet, we are called to serve.

Dress nice, but don’t be surprised if someone taps you on the shoulder and asks you to go do the dishes. Far from being catered, this is a family meal that is to be enjoyed alongside the host, who himself is humble enough to grab an apron and get in the kitchen when needed.

Conclusion And so, this is a parable warning all Christians, lukewarm Christians specifically, that outward profession of faith may not be enough. Saying we’re Christian when it is convenient or acceptable may not do the trick.

Like all the ancient prophets, Jesus too is calling for inner transformation in the life of the believer. What is required to stay at the messianic banquet is a life of faith and holiness, and when you think about it, it’s the least we can do for our gracious Host.

For us, as Episcopalians, the altar behind me, is an ever-present reminder that we are called to gather around this table in the Lord’s name, to receive his body and blood and then go…go from this earthly banquet and be the Body of Christ.

It’s our tradition that only the baptized receive communion. That’s not because we want to be exclusive but to communicate that what we are doing here is a family meal.

All are welcome into this family, we want you in our family, but you gotta be wearing the right clothes…and by that, I mean you gotta be wearing Christ. In baptism you are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever…you are an heir of his kingdom and have a seat at his table. So if you want a seat, come and be washed in the font and claim the faith that our Lord graciously gives.

For the baptized, we are required to confess our sins before coming to this banquet feast—to acknowledge those things “done and left undone,” including those times we’ve been lukewarm about our faith—when we have not loved or pursued faith or holiness.

And so, in light of this parable, and the things going on in our world, I want to invite you when you come up for communion to claim the call of the baptized; to hand over anything that is holding you back and seek his will in your life; to claim your spot at this banquet, and then to leave this place an agent, disciple, and evangelist of the Kingdom of God—to point people to that day when the world’s brokenness and pain will be set right and the king of glory takes his rightful place at the head of his messianic banquet.

And oh, what a glorious day that will be.

Proper 23. Year A. Isaiah 25:1-9. Matthew 22:1-14. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes K. Bailey. Based on Sermon #203.

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