Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Big Party

(18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

The prophet Isaiah is inviting us to a party, and not just any party but the best one that will ever be. It’s the greatest party ever because the host is the richest, most generous host ever, and has more friends than anyone in the world. The host is God himself, and Isaiah promises that we shall “drink wine,” and “eat well,” and best of all, we shall “have life.” This isn’t just life is the sense of being alive; it’s Life, eternal life, the living force behind, underneath, and ahead of everything that is—this Life that we clumsily call “God.”

What the prophet is describing is a common theme in the Sacred Scriptures, and it’s called the ‘Messianic Banquet.’ It’s the idea that, when the Messiah comes to bring judgment at the end of time, he will host for the just a festive banquet. It’s not just in the Old Testament prophets that we hear this theme. Think of Jesus’ parables and how many of them revolve around dinner parties, banquets, and wedding receptions. In all of these our hope for the Messianic Banquet at the end of time is invoked. This is not a small part of Jesus’ own message: if we want to know what the destiny of the world is at the end of time, look at a wedding reception, for the end of time and the destiny of creation is the final fulfillment of the marriage of heaven and earth.

But here’s the kicker: this banquet that celebrates the end of time and the destiny of the world, it has already started. Not to worry though; it’s still going on and we can still join in the celebration. This is one way we can read the account of the feeding of the five thousand that we hear from St. Matthew today. This miraculous meal is evidence that the final purpose and destiny of creation has appeared within our human history with all of its saving and nourishing force. And just like it was when Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave that bread and fish to his disciples to give to the people, so through the apostolic authority of his church, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives us the bread of this Eucharist. This language is important and it helps us understand that since the time of the early Church, we have seen the Eucharist as a continuation of the miracle we hear in the Gospel today.

Let us see the miracle present in the Eucharist we celebrate! Here, in this assembly that the Holy Spirit has brought together, we become the Messianic Banquet that Isaiah looked forward to, and we attend the wedding reception for the marriage of heaven and earth. This is the joy of the final end and purpose of all creation, and we have been invited.

This is a very freeing thing! The judgment has come and the party has begun. God will not be stopped in fulfilling the unconditional covenant he made with David, and insists on saving the world. All we have to do is consent to it and we’re free from all worry and anxiety. Since we’re made free in this way, and don’t have to waste our energy on useless worry, we can devote ourselves to each other. When we see the world around us suffering and struggling, starving spiritually because of its ignorance or even hostility to God, we can respond freely to the Lord’s command: “give them some food yourselves.”

No comments: