[Homily: Assumption Chapel, 4 Nov. 2019]
There are some people who love to eat, and loving to eat, they love to talk about food. What is your favorite food? How is it best prepared? Father Manny Perez is an expert on food. And Lunar Fayloga is an expert on restaurants. Having conversations with them often makes your mouth water.
Our gospel today is certainly about food. But not only about food. It is about meals. And I am sure that you will find that in conversing with Father Manny or in talking with Lunar Fayloga you can also learn much about meals.
Culturally we Filipinos love our meals. For us meals are good, not only when they bring us around a table with delicious food – grilled panga, sizzling bangus belly, roasted lechon, adobong manok, chicken apritada, lengua, callos, lasagna, spaghetti ala pomodoro and the like, of course, with the appropriate beverages – but when the table brings relatives, friends, loved-one, friends and possible new relatives and new friend together in congenial conversation and love.
Many of these meals are all the more important and anticipated because of what they celebrate. The celebration of life – on a birthday; the celebration of love, on a wedding day; the celebration of achievement, on a graduation day; the celebration of fidelity, on an anniversary. Meals also celebrate religious beliefs and convictions. The Passover Meal celebrates God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery. We, of course, celebrate the conviction of our salvation through the Christmas Meal and the all-important Eucharistic Meal.
For Jesus, meals were very important, and disclosed much about who he was, or they were occasions of disclosing much about himself. Much of his ministry took place at the table. He shared joyous meals with his disciples. But also with tax collectors and sinners. He was chided for eating with these ritually “unclean” people, be he ate with them demonstrably, if not provocatively, to bring out the values in the Kingdom of his Father. He went to meals in the homes of religious leaders of the people, like the meal he went to on the invitation of Simon the Pharisee, when suddenly a woman gatecrashed to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipe them with her hair, and anoint them with fragrant oil (cf. Lk 7: 36ff). When he preached and the people were hungry, he himself provided the meal, fish and bread – for more than 5000 men, after which there were many leftovers. Then, on the night before he suffered and died, he gathered his apostles gathered around the Passover table, an occasion which according to Luke included the sinner, Judas; at this meal, took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, Take this. Eat it. This is my Body broken for you. Then he took wine, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying. Take this. Drink of it. This is my blood shed for you.
What he said to his disciples, he says to all of us, sinners who would be redeemed and nourished by his wasted body, sinners who would be saved and washed in the blood of the lamb. In this forgiveness and redemption, all would have access to the great eschatological banquet prepared for us by the Father: “You have a prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes; my head you have anointed with oil. My cup overflows” (Ps. 23:5). “…The Lord of Hosts will make for his people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of matured wines, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines” (Is. 25:6-8).
It is in this context of the great eschatological meal, that Jesus says in our Gospel reading for today:
“Whenever you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or sisters, or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors
In case they invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled the lame, the blind
Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous“
Jesus is not saying do not invite your friends and relatives to lunch or dinner.
He is saying do not invite them just because you wish to be paid back – just because you wish to be included in their banquets. Do not cheapen your table fellowship by your selfish ulterior motives.
He is saying, if you are a Christian, when you prepare a banquet, invite those who are normally excluded by society – the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – those whom Jewish society normally excluded from polite table fellowship. Invite them in the conviction that at the table of Jesus and in the eschatological banquet prepared by His Father these are included… these, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, including yourself, are included… where inclusion is not a matter of your deserving because of your status, your achievements, your relatives and friends, nor because of your ritual cleanliness, but only because, at his Eucharistic meal, Jesus takes bread and says, “Take and eat, for this is my Body” and you eat, and Jesus takes wine, and says, “Take and drink, for this is my blood poured out for you,” and you drink.