The Gospel for Sunday, December 17th, 2017

The Gospel for December 17th, 2017: Third Sunday of Advent

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Reflection: The Need for Silence during Advent

As we reach the third Sunday of Advent, I admit to ‘busy-ness fatigue.’ While I try to embrace the celebration of the season in all its liturgical significance, I am swept up by all its secular celebrations of various stripes as well. In the meantime, there is no slow down at work, only the additional responsibility to celebrate the season there additionally while the work continues to hum along. The sum total of all this celebrating and work is a sense of weariness and distraction that is precisely the opposite of the watchful spirit of Advent. There is a sense of déjà vu in this blog; I have discussed this before about this time of the season. And I don’t think I am alone in this. The reminder from some watchers to “keep Christ in Christmas” touches on this same general theme.

It is with this context that I read today’s gospel about the ministry of John the Baptist. He is preaching repentance and baptizing to prepare Jews for the coming of Christ. When asked about this, John is clear that Christ is coming—he, John, is not the awaited one. (25-27). Why is this preparation taking place in the desert instead of at the Temple in Jerusalem? There are many theological theories about this; but in my current state of mind I move to this conclusion: Jerusalem sounds like a busy city. Perhaps John has taken his ministry of repentance and watchfulness to the barren quiet of the desert. Perhaps, this is a place away from noise and distraction of the city where he can focus on the coming of Jesus into the world. Indeed, by doing so, Jesus does come to him there for baptism (Matthew 3: 13-17).

My point is the role of silence in our worship is critical to getting away from distraction and noise of the world, even when that noise is well-intended during the spirit of the season. If we are preparing to meet the Lord, we need to foster  the circumstances that make that encounter possible. While we may love our neighbors and family at a holiday party, that joyful noise may distract our watchfulness as well. According to African Cardinal Robert  Sarah, we must not forget the role of silent, contemplative prayer in bringing us to Jesus. Like John, we must find our own deserts for prayer. Meditating on the need for fostering the circumstances for this kind of prayer in the book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, he notes:

The desert is the place of hunger, thirst, and the spiritual combat. It is vitally important to withdraw to the desert in order to combat the dictatorship of a world filled with idols that gorge themselves on technology and material goods, a world dominated and manipulated by the media, a world that flees God by taking refuge in noise. It is necessary to help this modern world to have the experience of the desert…the desert is the domain of grace. Far from his preoccupations, man encounters there his Creator and his God (Sarah & Diat 64).

So as I encounter the familiar and ironic weariness of Advent, I realize I need to spend time in silent prayer, to reconnect with Jesus and be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is only then that I can truly repent and watch with joyful anticipation of the final fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom on Earth. Silence is the antidote for ‘busy-ness fatigue.’

 

Advertisements

The Gospel for Sunday, December 10th, 2017

The Gospel for December 10th, 2017: “The Preaching of John the Baptist”

Mark 1: 1-8

Reflection: Letting Go of White Whales

Yesterday I found myself commenting aloud on the cold wind that has arrived in this early part of a typical Midwestern winter. My words came out sounding like something out of Moby Dick: “The cold wind chafes at my soul.” So I followed up with an Ahab line, “The white whale tasks me.” This musing has stuck with me as I reflect on the gospel for the second Sunday of Advent.

I should point out this strange reference marks me as an English teacher, one whom has never actually made it through Melville’s classic novel. My narrow understanding of the story comes from the movie adaptation with Gregory Peck as Ahab. Nevertheless, I have given some thought to Ahab’s relentless quest to destroy Moby Dick and its consequence, the death of all of his crew, save one to tell the tale. Forgive me if my simplistic literary analysis is an offense to Mr. Melville, his book, and readers of the classic.

It seems to me Ahab misguidedly understands the strange white whale that caused him bodily injury in an unsuccessful whaling attack as an evil rival who must be eradicated at all costs. He mistakes his obsession for revenge as a holy mission from God. So, yes, the white whale tasks him, just as we are all tasked by sin, but he fails to recognize his task is to let go of his desire for retribution against his enemy. Instead Ahab plunges headlong into obsession, lustily taking his crew with him by manipulating their loyalty to his selfish ends. He chooses violence and selfishness over love and patience as answers to his restlessness.

What has this to do with today’s gospel? Mark begins his version with John the Baptist in the desert, preparing the Jews for the coming of Christ. His message is one of repentance, quoting Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (3). This is quintessential Advent advice. And yet, like Ahab, it is possible to misconstrue the intent. ‘Making straight the paths’ sounds like a call to action that is external and physical. If we see in this call a need to eradicate the ubiquitous sin around us, we might attempt to condemn and blame the sinners instead of the sin. We might start seeing white whales that need to be ‘straightened’ in an effort to fill the void left by the divisiveness of sin. So what do we do? We blame others for the sin the world. We judge them, perhaps to their faces, and certainly behind their backs.

Such a holy quest to take down a few white whales ourselves is not holy at all. John the Baptist is calling for an interior repentance, for the cleansing of the soul as in baptism.  Why? So that our hearts might be opened to the love of Christ through the flame of the Holy Spirit. Advent reminds us that Christ’s victory over sin is accomplished by a surrender to love. This is the surrender of Mary to God’s will that she become the mother of Jesus and let go of her own dreams for the future. John says of Jesus, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (8). The cleansing of repentance means letting go of our own attachments that task us, be they large or small, to make  room for the animating love of Christ. We must make straight our own paths by letting go and turning to Christ to help with that epic work. He will not send us on missions of violence to deal with sin—that is the Ahabian error born of pride—instead, He will ask us to humbly put the needs of others before our own desires and fears, like Mary, and trust in His love.  It is not enough to hear John’s call. We must seek God by letting go of our white whales and surrendering to God’s will that we should love others, even our enemies.

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

The Gospel for December 3rd, 2017:  “Need for Watchfulness”

Mark 13: 33-37

Reflection: Joyful Anticipation

May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” (36-37)

Jesus is very direct in this gospel for inaugurating the Advent season. If we have fallen asleep to the presence of Jesus in our lives, if we have become drowsy from the stress and distraction of the world, let us awaken and watch for our Lord and the arrival of His kingdom on Earth. Let us change our focus and place Christ back at the center of our lives.

In the past I have tended to read a prophetic gospel like this with a sense of doom and gloom. It is that feeling that I have done wrong and am awaiting punishment. It is a watch marked by dread. On reflection I think this is misguided. Certainly we should repent if we have turned away from Christ, but in that move we should be hopeful for our salvation. Our savior has begun the work of our salvation in His death, resurrection, gift of the Holy Spirit, and establishment of His church on Earth. Therefore, our watch should instead be marked by joyful anticipation of the peace and harmony of God’s kingdom. It is at hand if only we look for it.

The Christmas carols have it right:

  • Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her king.
  • O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.
  • Remember Christ our savior was born on Christmas day. O tidings of comfort and joy.

They do not speak of punishment and nor should I. So as we “watch” this advent season, may our hearts fill with joy, not guilt or dread, and share that joy with others.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, November 26th, 2017

The Gospel for November 26th, 2017: “The Judgment of the Nations”

Matthew 25: 31-46

Reflection: Contemplating the Judgment of the Nations

In my blog from two Sundays ago, I wrote these words in my reflection on the parable of the ten virgins:

On multiple occasions in this blog I have written about how I think Jesus came to save all of humanity, not to pass a judgment that consists of collecting the saints and casting the sinners to Hell. And yet I have also written about how I think our precious gift of free will—which allows us to love unconditionally so that we may participate in the Kingdom of God—enables us to reject God’s love because it impels us to love others unconditionally, as He loves us. I believe this is the common threat of Satan and the power of sin and the legacy of the fall: we are capable of putting self-love before the love of others for our entire lives. And in that stubborn pride, one sentences himself to a position outside the reach of God’s love. This, indeed, would be Hell.

This week, with Matthew’s passage on “The Judgment of the Nations,” I am forced to reflect further on the possibility that some sinners may be damned to Hell when Christ comes again. As much as I find solace in C.S. Lewis’s view that sinners choose their own fate by rejecting the Lord’s salvation, the reoccurrence of this theme so soon and in such strong language makes me think I need to reflect further on its significance. Jesus tells His disciples that when He comes in glory He will sit on His throne and separate the sheep from the goats like a shepherd. To the uncharitable “goats,” He will say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (41, 46).

The Lord’s judgment on sin cannot be dismissed easily. And yet I find that dwelling on the depth of my own sin can be so discouraging. It is simply too overwhelming for me to wrap my mind around. Its logic escapes me. Recently, I have been reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s book  Prayer. In his examination of why prayer is so essential to our faith and relationship with God, Von Balthasar probes deeply into the nature of contemplative prayers as a means to draw closer to Jesus. In this inquiry, he tackles the moment in prayer when the contemplative mediates on the crucifixion. His words reveal why it is so difficult to consider God’s judgment and yet so necessary.

Let me share a lengthy excerpt from Prayer to demonstrate. Von Balthasar writes in the first person as a stand in for all sinners:

Thus, as in all contemplation of sin, there is a dialectic to be maintained in the contemplation of hell. We see it in the Son’s being forsaken by God and in his descent into the darkness of Hades. In the Son who bears, not his own sins, but mine, I glimpse the terrible severity of the Father’s judgment—for who but the Son really knows what it means to be forsaken by the Father? It is my “journey to hell” that I observe him undertake, a journey which, God knows, I have deserved, I cannot dissociate myself from it in my contemplation. I cannot nurture the secret sense of having saved my own skin because my Friend, my Beloved, Eternal Love himself, has taken the rap in my place. That would be absolute lovelessness, crass egoism, a cold heart which could not even be softened by the sight of the Son’s torturing, summoning the Father’s redoubled, ineluctable anger. All the sinner can do, contemplating the judgment pronounced upon his own sin, is simply to be there while his case is heard, to be there just as he is, the sinner who wasn’t even there when he was needed, who betrayed the Lord like Judas and denied him like Peter and fled like the others; he simply has to be there, involved in guilt at all points through his sinfulness, and so is bound to consent to the Judge’s sentence and the Victim’s cry of abandonment: Yes, that is the truth, that is what I have deserved.

The dialectic of this consists in this: because he believes (that what is involved is the redemption of the world and his own redemption), because he loves (and hence cannot dissociate himself from the Son), the believer must accept the Father’s sentence of condemnation upon the sinner (i.e., upon himself). The very faith and love which go to make this contemplation also submit to the Father’s judgment…Yet at the same time, if my faith and love are alive and genuine, I simply cannot accept my personal condemnation from the mouth of God, for the Son, Love himself, has bourne on my behalf” (300-01).

The logic of this excerpt may come as close as is humanly possible to maintaining with coherence the integrity of the problem of God’s judgment on a sinful humanity and Christ’s saving death on the cross, outside of holy scripture itself. It barely holds together in my mind, but here’s what I take away: Jesus takes us back to the possibility of Hell in the gospels over and over so that we may grasp the truth of His death. He went to Hell for all of us sinners. Jesus, who is one with the Father, sentenced the goats to Hell and then made the journey for them—for us—to restore love to His creation, which has been separated from Him by sin and death. Until we know that truth, we don’t know love, and we don’t know Jesus.

Jesus saves. We couldn’t save ourselves and still can’t. But once we surrender to the truth of God’s love, we are free from sin and can return to the Father. In contemplative prayer, that truth becomes fully knowable by mediating on Jesus and His passion. We need not fear damnation as we read Jesus’ references to Hell in the gospels; but He reminds us so we forget not the true meaning of His death.

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, November 19th, 2017

The Gospel for November 19th, 2017: “The Parable of the Talents”

Matthew 25: 14-15, 19-21

Reflection: The Problem of Stewardship

Since this gospel is placed near the end of the liturgical year, it offers the opportunity to think about how each of us has used our God-given talents to bring others the light of Christ’s love in the past year. The meaning of “talent” is not precisely the same in this parable as the broader meaning the Church gives it in terms of stewardship. Typically the Church will use the words time, talent, and treasure to cover all the ways we might contribute to the mission of the Church. According to the Wikipedia article on a talent, Jesus was referring to a valuable mass, probably a precious metal. So while the logical analogy is to money, the nature of the parable invites a broader interpretation of all the assets, especially those that are unique, God gives one that can be used in the service of the mission of loving God and others.

In the parable, a master gives three servants “talents” of varying amounts. Two use those talents to increase the master’s wealth and are rewarded with a share of the master’s “joy” (21). One, “out of fear,” buried the single talent he received and then gave it back to the master. He was rebuked as a “wicked, lazy servant” (24-26). The master ends up giving the talent he horded to the most fruitful servant.

I can relate to the mindset of the servant who buried his talent out of fear. It takes a lot of trust in the Lord to identify and use our unique talents. It seems to me some of my talents, such as a gift for listening, a love of music, a willingness to give away money, and an attraction to quiet contemplation, have the potential to draw criticism from others, in some cases from the people I care most about. Or they will take time away from imaginary gifts I desire such as the ability to lead others in heroic causes that will draw praise and admiration. There are people who have such a gift. They might be analogous to the ones who were given five talents in my view. If I am the servant who was given one talent—abilities that will lead me down a quiet, unremarkable path—I should not expect to make five talents from my starting point of one. Instead, I just need to use my modest talent for a modest return. The sin is burying it. The sin is being afraid it is not enough because other servants have made profits of five talents or two talents and becoming paralyzed by that fear. This parable reminds me they have different starting gifts to use in the service of the master. God has a unique plan for each of his servants that contributes to the salvation of His people. It is our responsibility to live the plan that is our own and not someone else’s. My priest sometimes says, “Do what is right there.” I find that very helpful advice. I have a tendency to dream of doing the exciting work of others instead of finding joy in doing that work God has specifically for me. So I pray for the wisdom of knowing what I can do and letting go of those things that I cannot. I pray that all those dreamers like me may share the gifts we have—no matter how small—so that we may experience the joy of harmony with our Lord.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, November 12th, 2017

The Gospel for November 12th, 2017: “The Parable of the Ten Virgins”

Matthew 25: 1-13

Reflection: Entry to the Banquet

I am sure the cultural references in “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” would be interesting to learn more about and would enhance my understanding of Jesus’ message today; however, I don’t think it is absolutely necessary. So I am going to cut right to the chase of this gospel story: Jesus is warning us that it is possible to ignore our relationship with Him until it is too late. When the virgins who waited until the last minute to fill their lamps with oil return and find the door to the wedding feast locked, the conversation that follows speaks to the heart of the matter in our relationship with Jesus. They beg of the Bridegroom, who symbolizes Jesus, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” In reply, he says, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you” (11-12). As at this moment it is too late for them to enter the wedding banquet, so too might it be too late for an unrepentant sinner to enter the Kingdom of God, if he has not opened his heart to Jesus before dying.

On multiple occasions in this blog I have written about how I think Jesus came to save all of humanity, not to pass a judgment that consists of collecting the saints and casting the sinners to Hell. And yet I have also written about how I think our precious gift of free will—which allows us to love unconditionally so that we may participate in the Kingdom of God—enables us to reject God’s love because it impels us to love others unconditionally, as He loves us. I believe this is the common threat of Satan and the power of sin and the legacy of the fall: we are capable of putting self-love before the love of others for our entire lives. And in that stubborn pride, one sentences himself to a position outside the reach of God’s love. This, indeed, would be Hell.

Despite this possibility, I remain hopeful for all of humanity. Why? I think God’s love is irresistible. I also think when Jesus said He came to save all, He meant it. In my creaturely ignorance, I can’t explain the mechanistic details of how this divine salvation will occur. Will it be purgatory? Will it be the intercession of the communion of saints? Will it be a silent confession followed by an implied “yes” to Jesus on the deathbed of every sinner, who like the Good Thief on the cross finally sees the light? This mystery often makes me think about the conversation among Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome in Mark 16, when they go to anoint Jesus’ body on Resurrection Sunday and ask, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (3). The implied answer is God will. Jesus will. The Holy Spirit will. It is not our role to perform the miracle of salvation. Our role is to be grateful beneficiaries and evangelists.

If like me, you wonder about the fate of humankind, you should not fear if God will roll away the stone of our sin so that we may enter the banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven. If we recognize it is within our power to say yes to Jesus, eventually we will, despite the persistent temptations of sin. It is really only a question of how soon do we want to enter the feast. If we open our hearts wide to Jesus, He will “know” us and welcome us in with open arms.

The Gospel for Sunday, November 5th, 2017

The Gospel for November 5th, 2017: “Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees”

Matthew 23: 1-12

Reflection: Prayer Fosters Love

In today’s gospel, we see Jesus at His most critical. He rails against the loveless, empty gestures of the Pharisees as they follow the letter, but not the spirit, of the law. His indictment is clear: “For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen” (3-5).

I think this criticism is always a concern for the devout Christian. It is possible to practice the rituals of worship—the law–in order to impress others and to use such a reputation to hide behind, so that one can avoid real self-sacrificial love for others. If we don’t work at accepting the grace of God’s love and sharing it with others with the humility of Mary, we risk becoming directed inward and withdrawing from the radiating power of the Holy Spirit among God’s people. The practice of worship is then perverted into a prideful quest for self-glory.

So how does one avoid this trap? I think the Catholic theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, clues us in to the answer as he writes about the centrality of prayer in Christian worship in his book titled Prayer. Genuine prayer that contemplates the Word of the Lord opens our hearts to the love of God for sharing, in the same way we experience His love at Communion by “consuming” the Eucharistic Lord. As a result regular prayer roots us in the love of the Holy Spirit and maintains our heart’s openness against the hardening effects of self-serving legalism. Von Balthasar describes the impact this way:

The praying person grows more and more out of the world of law, which corresponds to the Old Testament and the promise of love, into the New Convenant, which is the manifestation of pure love. Through its mere existence and its powerful radiance it embraces all laws, and hence is no longer “under” the law (from Prayer, 132).

It is so easy to forget the importance of quiet personal prayer, of contemplative prayer. It requires slowing down, being quiet, and listening. Amongst the busy-ness of many people’s lives, such time for prayer does not come easy. It becomes tempting to narrow the time for prayer to the liturgy in the name of efficiency, which for many people means once a week. But when Jesus publicly calls out the Pharisees in today’s reading, He is telling them—like us—the law, or the ritual, is not enough. Love is shared and grows in relationships, which require time and listening. Prayer is where we give that time and listening to Jesus so that He may share His grace with us through the Holy Spirit. My prayers have grown efficient and hollow. I pray that I may slow down and listen to the Lord every day.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, October 29th, 2017

The Gospel for October 29th, 2017: “The Greatest Commandment”

Matthew 22:34-40

Reflection: Commandments and Bread Crumbs

When asked by a Pharisee, a scholar of the law, which is the greatest commandment, Jesus answers:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (37-40).

It is so simple and logical it ends the questioning. Matthew’s gospel records no follow-up questions from the scholar or any of the other Pharisees. Still, it is worth considering one question that has come to my mind: Why do we need the other commandments? These two seem to cover everything.

As I reflect on the answer, it occurs to me these two commandments may be the greatest and simplest, but they are also the hardest to keep. If they do indeed cover everything (and I think they do), they command us to be saints. They call us to be thoroughly and consistently holy. And yet, with the exception of Mary, none of the saints were holy in every aspect of their entire lives. They became saints by surrendering to God’s grace one sin at a time. The other commandments help us manage that process in units we can handle. We can work on being more honest, being less jealous, being peaceful instead of violent toward others, and on and on. As we do so, we become more holy, less prone to sin, freer to love our God and each other without concern for our own selfish desires or fears.

As a young man, I took umbrage with long lists of rules. All I could see were restrictions and opportunities to fail. The Ten Commandments always felt a little constricting. The examination of conscience for confession felt like a downright straight jacket. I was too young and immature to realize that what I thought was freedom and the key to happiness was in fact a road to becoming weighted with attachments that were far more burdensome then the Ten Commandments. I look back now with hindsight and see the long list of attachments I have accumulated. For example, I am attached tightly to my career, money, and security. These are consistent sources of fear and worry. They interfere with my ability to unconditionally love others, especially family members. Giving up those attachments at this point in my life seems monumental, at times insurmountable. But if I ask the Lord to just give me the strength to not work on a Sunday (or even part of a Sunday), that is a small step I can take. And if I ask the Lord to help me  let go of  one possession for which I need more money—to not make an idol of its convenience or to covet it because someone else has it—that is another small step I can take. These are not arbitrary rules to be followed at the risk of grave punishment. They are a trail of bread crumbs that can be followed to the Lord so that we may find happiness in Him. He is the bread of life. His commands are an invitation to His table, where we will find all we need to be satisfied.

 

The Gospel for Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

The Gospel for October 22nd, 2017: “Paying Taxes to the Emperor”

Matthew 22: 15-21

Reflection: Our Creator Unifies All

Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Knowing their [Pharisees] malice, Jesus said,
“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”
Then they handed him the Roman coin.
He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”
They replied, “Caesar’s.”
At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”

–Matthew 22: 17-21

In the past when I have read Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians in this gospel, I have marveled at its cleverness. The Pharisees try to trap Jesus into an answer that will cause Him trouble with either the Jews or the Roman officials depending on how He answers. His response escapes the trap in its ability to avoid alienating the beliefs of either group. In this moment Jesus reminds me of some great rhetorician in ancient Greece, who uses words to solve political or ethical dilemmas.

On this reading, I realize my admiration of the cunning answer is a flawed reading caused by applying a worldly standard to judge the words of Jesus. Jesus came to join Heaven and Earth into one Kingdom of God; He came to join God’s creation to its Creator. His means is an unconditional love that flows forth from the Creator. So Jesus’ answer does not represent a verbal victory over an opponent as I thought; rather, as Jesus is the Word, His words center us back to the triune God and His love that unifies. There is no inherent conflict in God’s creation except those we put there when we turn away from God. God created Caesar and all government leaders. Governments can be unifying forces when those in charge center their lives of God and live His mission. The fact that they often do not is not in itself reason enough to rebel. We must never forget Jesus forgave both the Roman officials and Jewish leaders who directly played roles in His crucifixion.

If we center ourselves on God—giving Him what belongs to Him—we will become servants in a salvation plan that unifies through love. We may not know ahead of time what specific missions we will be given in that role, but we know it will not seek to divide us as the Pharisees trap was attempting to do. Through the love of the Holy Spirit, God will give us the grace to be peace-makers in those relationships that are at odds from the disharmony caused by the power of sin. We do not need to be clever problem-solvers with cunning rhetorical skills, just humble servants of the Lord. The answer to every conflict begins with centering ourselves on God.

 

 

The Gospel for Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Gospel for October 15th, 2017: “The Parable of the Wedding Feast”

Matthew 22: 1-14

Reflection: The Kingdom is for All Who Accept

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.

–Isaiah 25: 6-8

Like last week’s gospel, Jesus is speaking to the chief priest and elders in a parable about the Kingdom of God. And also like last week there are references in the parable to a horrible fate for those who reject God’s authority and gifts. Last week it was vineyard tenants who failed to cooperate with God as the vineyard owner. The Jewish leaders  suggest that the punishment for their offense should be death to the disobedient tenants. This week, it is those who were invited to a wedding banquet and refuse the invitation or show up without proper dress. Jesus says the consequence of their rejection is banishment to the outer darkness in bindings, where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 22: 13).

At the risk of sounding redundant, my reflection on both parables recommends we do not focus our reading of these parables on the mentioned consequences and equate them with a wrathful God sending off sinners to Hell. While it reasonable to read this way, I don’t think it fits with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the Gospels. He does not come to punish; He comes to save and usher in the Kingdom of God. As I stated last week, the Kingdom of God is marked by love and forgiveness, not wrath and punishment.

If we can avoid focusing on the punishment for the moment, then I think the parable speaks to the inclusiveness of God’s invitation to the wedding banquet, which is the Kingdom of God. Consider this line from the auxiliary reading from Isaiah quoted above: “On the mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven all nations….” (Isaiah 25: 8). The Jewish priests and elders thought theirs was the chosen people who alone were invited to the Kingdom. Jesus is saying the invitation will go out to all, including the Gentiles. The veil that separates the tribes of Israel, the unity and relatedness of all God’s creation will be destroyed by Jesus’ coming. Now all may participate in the Kingdom of God.

Once we establish this message as central to the passage, the punishment mentioned by Jesus is not read as coming from Him or from God the Father. It is self-imposed by those who reject the gift of salvation, the invitation to the wedding feast that is the Kingdom of God. God gave us free will to choose to love Him and his creation so that we may actively enjoy the gift of His love and can freely give it to others. The truth of this condition means humans can choose to reject God’s gift of salvation. This self-imposed exile will mean separation from the love that leads to happiness, a condition that leads to “wailing and grinding of teeth.” We choose the punishment by rejecting the invitation to the Kingdom, which of course the Jewish leaders did by crucifying Jesus.

In this understanding, the final line, “Many are invited, but few are chosen,” (Matthew 22: 14) is not about God’s selectiveness, with a few saints in Heaven and a multitude of sinners in Hell. I think this line probably suffers from a difficult translation into English. It should read something like, ‘All are invited, but not all choose to accept.’ Our place at the wedding banquet–in the Kingdom of God– is secured by our daily re-commitment to saying “Yes” to the call of the Lord. We say, “Here, I am Lord,” and then try to carry out God’s plans for us to proclaim His word and love one another as He has loved us. Our moments of weakness and shortcoming will be forgiven as long as we resist the ultimate temptation to harden our hearts to God’s love and live for the temporary pleasures of this life alone. We need Jesus to do this. His grace will flourish in our simple act of surrender to His invitation. All are called and He who created us can help all join the divine feast.