It was a call that left 27 year-old Quinn shocked and in disbelief.
Her fiancé’ told her over the phone that he could not go through with their wedding. He just wasn’t sure he wanted to spend his life with her.
Feeling devastated, she was left with the embarrassing task of telling her family and friends that the wedding would not take place.
Adding to her pain was the realization that the $35,000 she had already spent on the 120 person banquet they had planned would not be refunded.
Rather than let it all go to waste, Quinn’s mother came up with the idea of still having the banquet but inviting the homeless of their city to enjoy it instead. So, what would have otherwise been a sad occasion and a waste of food became an opportunity to share their abundance with the less fortunate. People who were not used to having three meals a day or being waited on by professional staff were showing up to feast on sumptuous appetizers, salmon and sirloin.
While it was still painful for the family to have the wedding canceled, giving back to their community by feeding the poor brought some joy into what would otherwise have been an unbearable day. As Quinn’s mother put it, “I feel a lot of heartache and heartbreak for [my daughter], but I will take something good from this.”
In many ways, the story of Quinn’s canceled wedding is like the parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel. However, it is not the groom who fails to show up to the banquet but the invited guests. The king decides to hold the feast anyway but shares his special day with the homeless, the poor and the sick. As in all His parables, Jesus is teaching us something about how God’s Kingdom operates in this world. Though everyone is invited, it is typically the needy who answer His call. The rich and the powerful, on the other hand, do not believe they need God and so turn their attention to the passing things of this world convinced that money, status and influence can save them.
That brings us to this gathering here today.
God is setting before us a sumptuous feast. The first course is His word taken from the Bible. He feeds our souls, hearts and minds with His wisdom. When we proclaim the Scriptures at Mass, it is God Himself who speaks to us. When we are feeling afraid, we are comforted by the words of today’s responsorial psalm - “Besides restful waters he leads me.” When we are feeling complacent and comfortable, we hear Jesus tell us in the gospel - “Many are invited but few are chosen.” And when we wonder how we will make ends meet, we hear Saint Paul tell us in today’s second reading - “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” When we pay attention to the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and let them penetrate our being, we feel as satisfied as if we had just finished a delicious meal.
The second course of this banquet is served to us on this altar. Jesus Christ feeds us His very self - His Body and Blood - in the Eucharist. There is no other spiritual gift greater than what we receive every Sunday at this table. There is no food that is more satisfying than the Blessed Sacrament. Through it, we are united personally with Christ Himself who comes to dwell within us. Our souls are filled with light, peace and joy as we welcome Jesus into our hearts. Because of this incredible gift of God, we can echo the words of the responsorial psalm - “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
And we are the ones blessed to have said “yes” to the invitation to take part in this feast. Like the parable in today’s gospel, many have refused that invitation. They have decided that sleeping in late, going out for brunch or working in their yard is a better use of their time than gathering with God’s people to hear His word and receive the Eucharist.
As a parish, all of us would like to see these pews filled with worshippers. However, like the woman whose fiancé’ jilted her or the king whose subjects failed to show up at his son’s wedding, we need to turn our attention to the poor and the needy. Perhaps we need to invite the homeless, the migrant and the mentally ill into this banquet. After all, they are the ones who really are in need.
What if, when we pass someone panhandling on the street, we were to give him a copy of our parish bulletin and invite him to join us for Mass? What if, before coming to church, we were to go to every park bench and ask the homeless to share a pew with us? It wouldn’t take long for the word to go around that we are a community willing to welcome all God’s people no matter how poor or humble. And we would become, in short order, a living witness to the gospel message that Jesus came to bring good news to the poor.
At the same time, it would mean a big change in attitude for most of us. How comfortable would we feel sitting next to someone who smells? Could we resist the temptation to turn away when someone offers us a dirty hand at the sign of peace? And would we still be willing to worship here if we knew that, any given Sunday, someone in the parking lot might hold a cup out to us and ask if we have any spare change? There is nothing sentimental or glamorous about being a Church that reflects the Kingdom of God by opening its doors to the poor and needy.
Nonetheless, if we could really live Jesus’ message in the gospel, we just might find that we who consider ourselves sophisticated, civilized and even devout have much to learn from our needy brothers and sisters. We might discover that, as we reach out to feed the hungry, we are fed in return by the rich banquet of God’s love and mercy.