St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Trinity II : Fr Tony Hogg

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 ‘And they all with one consent began to make excuse.’
In Palestine, when a man made a feast, the day was announced long beforehand and the invitations sent out and accepted, but the hour was not announced. That was only given on the day itself, so having accepted and then declined was a great insult.
For the Jew the Great Banquet went beyond a merely earthly event, but was something which would happen when God broke into history and the Messianic banquet would happen, and, of course, it was for Jews only; they would never imagine that Gentiles and sinners would find a place at this event. So again Jesus is choosing as the subject of this parable something familiar to those around him.
 The master stands for God; the originally invited guests for the Jews; but having looked forward to the feast they now turn down the offer. The poor from the streets and lanes are the Gentiles for whom there is now much room.
Therefore we can see that the invitation is brought about by the compulsion of love and that is the message of Christ’s short ministry; to bring others to the table of love, joy and reconciliation .
So what of the excuses we hear about; as in all of his teaching we can see how Jesus speaks not to those who listened at the time, but to all of us as year in, year out, we read these parables and see so much of either ourselves, or others whom we know.
1. The first man had bought a field and needed to look it over. Did it never occur to him that the field was not going to move; that it would be still there tomorrow? Business time before worship time is still the call of many today.
2. The second man had bought five yoke of oxen and had to try them out. The acquisition of a new car or any new possession can become so great that the claims of God and attendance at mass take second place, or eventually none at all.
3. The third has married a wife.  This guy was perhaps remembering Deuteronomy “when a man is newlywed, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business: he shall be free at home one year, happy to be with the wife he has taken.” (That puts a whole new spin on honey moon doesn’t it?). As in so much Jewish law there is a tendency to allow good things to crowd out the claims of that compulsion of love of which I spoke earlier. The joy of family life and all that goes with it is something, not only to rejoice in, but to share. That is true of the ‘family of faith; the church’. ‘We are the Body of Christ’ as the great family and household of God. Our caring and sharing comes from our belonging together at the banquet, the feast of the altar.
We all know how important feasting is and well we should for we are following in the steps of Our Lord who thought of his kingdom and serving in in terms of a feast and that is the greatest happiness. Over the centuries, so many have tried to take the happiness and joy out of our faith. In England I think of the wretched Oliver Cromwell, who had organs ripped out; choirs sacked; beautiful paintings, and artifacts destroyed; Christmas and other feasts banned. Children were not allowed toys and only religious reading was deemed suitable.  Mercifully he was overthrown and joy and spontaneity returned to faith and worship at The Restoration, not only of The Monarchy, but of joyful worship.
I know that in the words of the confession I ‘am a miserable sinner’ but that does not mean that I have to look like a miserable Christian! It is through Grace that the misery turns to happiness through forgiveness.  Sadly many 18/19century biblical scholars were to comment that they could not imagine Jesus playing as a child, and certainly not smiling when he was a man. Had they forgotten his first miracle at Cana, turning 120 gallons of water into the best vintage?
No wonder Swinburne, the poet was to write:
‘Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean
The world has grown grey from thy breath.’
Even John Wesley, who wrote some joyful hymns, opened a school near Bristol; no games were allowed because “he who plays when he is a child will play when he is a man.” There were no holidays. The children rose at 4.0a.m. and spent the first hour of the day in prayer and meditation, and on Friday they fasted until three in the afternoon.” No joyful partaking in the banquet for them and obviously neither in the words of the old gospel song that ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam’. Poor little mites!
Those who still make excuses to miss out on the great feast of love to which Christ offers all an open invitation, and I really mean an open invitation; no judgments here in our St Michael’s community where we know that a gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms; that there is no healthy pleasure forbidden to a Christian and that we should all be like people who are at that great banquet, living it day in and day out. 
So as ‘the mass is ended, go in peace’ and now live it and let it sustain you, until you return to be once more fed by the food of this great banquet. What better joy can there be, my dear friends in Christ?


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