In his catechesis on Faith, Pope Benedict XVI said when God created man, he put man in the Garden. This garden tells us that the reality in which God has placed the human being is not a wild forest but a place that protects, nurtures and sustains. The Readings today show this is God’s plan for you and me. The parable in the Gospel and the First Reading are descriptions of heaven in human terms. They are revelations of God’s plan in ways we understand. It is not to be taken literally to mean that heaven is an unending banquet. But they are to be taken that God wants to protect, nurture and sustain us.
The First Reading is quite applicable to us today in the days of this pandemic where there is a shroud of uncertainty and darkness, where the threat of death is real, where many have been affected either by the loss of their loved ones or of their livelihood, and people walk around in fear. But through these, we know God is the only One who can save us because the First Reading ends with a promise: this is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
This is what the Parable in the Gospel shows us, that God gives in abundance and he invites people to come and share in this abundance. The guests however reject this invitation and did not come and even mistreat the slaves who brought the invitation. The king sent his troops to kill those who mistreated and killed his slaves and sent out his slaves to invite everyone in the streets. And those invited came. This parable shows only those who respond to the invitation enjoyed the banquet prepared by the king.
Many today preach about the mercy of God, without inviting people to come to God. Their message seems to be that God will forgive our sins even if we do not come to him in repentance, that God will save, just because we call on him. This message is a half-truth because this teaching makes God a slave who should give us what we demand, rather than the Lord of heaven and earth whom we should worship.
While everyone who came was allowed to enter the banquet, one of the guests was thrown out because he did not have a wedding robe. Being baptized as a Catholic means nothing if we do not act like someone called to obedience to God. If I claim to be a Catholic, I must obey what Jesus teaches. Being a Catholic is more than being baptized in a Catholic church, or more than going to mass, or doing pious things Catholics do. If this is our perspective of being a Catholic, we see the Church merely as a human organization rather than the Body of Christ. Faith is not measured in external signs alone. Pope Benedict XVI says faith transforms. If there is no transformation in my life, I do not have faith.
Jesus said in John 14:15, If you love me, you will obey my commandments. I cannot say I love Christ, if I disobey him. I cannot enjoy the life God has prepared for me if I reject him.
But if I do repent and turn back to God, I begin my journey to what Pope Benedict XVI calls a new horizon and a decisive direction. This direction is towards Jesus Christ, whose power will transform me, if I allow him. This transformation is not something I do on my own, through positive thinking. I cannot be holy on my own effort. St Paul says in the Second Reading, I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Our journey towards holiness is achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit when we consent to the commands of Jesus Christ and strive to obey him.
And when we have this desire to walk toward holiness, we will never lack in the grace of God. St Paul said my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus. God gives in superabundance, materially and spiritually. Ephesians 1:3 tells us God has given us all the spiritual blessing in the heavens even before the creation of the world so we can stand before him holy and blameless. All we need to do is ask God for these blessings and he will give it to us. But this requires repentance, turning back to him. The other day I was reading 1 Thessalonians and Paul speaks of the Thessalonians turning from idols to serving the living and true God. The word turning, is literally twisting. Twisting is an action that requires force. Repentance requires a metanoia, a conversion of the mind, that results in the twisting around towards God. Our faith is made visible in our actions because faith without action is dead.
This mass is the visible sign of God’s superabundant grace to us, of his giving us all the spiritual blessings in the heavens, when he gives us Jesus Christ himself. God wants to protect, nurture and sustain us. But this happens only when we exercise our mind to twist ourselves towards God. We ask Jesus to transform our minds and hearts just as he transforms the bread and wine. This pandemic has been difficult for some of us here. So we ask Jesus to supply us in all our needs according to his riches and glory. Whether our need is material or spiritual. God is here. Jesus is here. The Psalm today says, the Lord is my shepherd, I will not lack. God will take care of our material and spiritual needs in superabundance, now and forever, in Jesus’ name.