The Banquets of God

Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ

Luke 14: 16-24

By Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros

Most people like to go to banquets. They may not like the long speeches, but all like the fellowship, the friendliness, and the food. Today’s Gospel lesson tells about a man who made a great banquet and invited many people to come.

There are four banquets to which God invites us. The first banquet is the banquet of life. Every human being is created in the image of God, to share in God’s life and God’s love. At this banquet all men and women come, but many do not think of God: they enjoy the gift but forget the giver of the gift.

The second banquet is the banquet of the faith. When Jesus started preaching, he announced the coming of the Kingdom of God through Him: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand! Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel” (Mk. 1:15). Those who refuse to come to the banquet are those who refuse to believe in Jesus.

The third banquet is the banquet of the Divine Liturgy, in which we partake of the Word of God – that is the first part of the Liturgy – and unite ourselves with Christ Himself in the Holy Communion – that is the second part of the Liturgy. Jesus comes to dwell in us by His Word and by His Body and Blood.

The fourth banquet is the banquet of the eternal life to which all men and women are invited after their death. The human life does not end at death, but continues in another way after death. But to enjoy the fourth banquet we have to accept the gift of the first three banquets: life, faith and prayer.

Many refuse the invitation to the Lord’s banquets. The excuses they give in this parable are of different kinds: 1) properties: One said “I have bought some land”. 2) Business: Another said: “I have bought five yoke of oxen”. 3) Human relations; A third said: “I am newly married and so I cannot come”. It is a matter of priorities. Jesus said: “Remember: where your treasure is, there your heart is also” (Mt. 6:21). Where is our treasure: properties? Business? family? Jesus says to us: “Do not worry about your livelihood, what you are to eat or drink or use for clothing… Seek first the Kingdom of God and his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt. 6:25-33)

Jesus did not come to help us to have more land or a successful business. He came to build the Kingdom of God, and to gather together in this Kingdom all peoples in one family, the family of the children of God.

Last October we had, as you know, a special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. In the final Message of the Synod, in a paragraph regarding our relations with the Jews, we wrote: “Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable.”

During the press conference which was held at the end of the Synod, I presented this message in my role as president of the commission that drafted the message. I was then asked by a journalist: “What do you mean by this sentence: ‘Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable’?” I answered: “Israel cannot use the Biblical concept of a Promised Land to justify its occupation of Palestinian territory and the expulsion of Palestinians who have been living there for centuries. We Christians cannot now speak of a Promised Land for the Jewish people. With Christ the Promised Land became the Kingdom of God”.

These comments aroused the anger of the Jews and of the Protestants who still believe that Palestine is still the Land Promised by God to the Jews, and that they have the right to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. But if the Jews rebuild the Temple and restart offering animal sacrifices in the name of God – because the Promised Land has always been linked with the Temple – this means that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross has no value in God’s eyes.

In fact, Jesus never spoke of a territorial Promised Land to the Jews. He referred to this land in His Sermon on the Mount and gave it a spiritual interpretation: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” (Mt. 5:3.5) In this meaning, the creation of the State of Israel cannot be considered as the fulfillment of God’s promises to His chosen People. It is not a religious issue, it is a political issue. And all the prophecies we read in Ezekiel and Jeremiah have been fulfilled by the return of the Jews from the exile of Babylon. They have nothing to do with the creation of the Sate of Israel in 1948.

So after the coming of Jesus, the Promised Land became the kingdom of God. And there are also no more one special chosen people. God has chosen the Jewish people to prepare the coming of the Messiah. With the coming of Jesus, all the peoples of the earth are called to become the chosen people by believing in Jesus. St Peter, in his first letter, applies the concept of chosen people to all who became Christians, Jews and non-Jews: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own…Once you were ‘no people’, but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet. 2:9-10)

Sometimes in our limited human thought we think when a favor was given to a special group, and then extended to other groups, it ceases to be a favor; in the same manner some think that when the grace of “chosen people” and “God’s people” was given to the Jews, and then extended to all peoples, it ceases to be a grace to the Jews. But the grace still remains a grace, even if it is extended to all peoples. In this sense we can understand Jesus’ saying: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17) The Old Covenant with the Jewish people, according to which they are God’s chosen people, is not abolished, but it is fulfilled with the entrance of all peoples in this chosen people.

Jesus says in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me” (3:19).

Blessed are those who are invited to God’s banquets, now and in the eternal life. Amen!

+ Archbishop Cyril S. Bustros

Eparch of Newton