GOD’S GRACE IS A GIFT AND A RESPONSIBILITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ IS 25:6-10; PHIL 4:12-14,19-20; MATT 22:1-14 (OR ><22:1-10) ]
In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah spoke of the great vision of God for humanity where “the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.” Indeed, paradise or heaven is always described as a banquet. In the gospel, the same imagery is used with regard to God’s invitation to all men and women, Jews and Gentiles, to come to share in His heavenly banquet. The Lord has this banquet all prepared and is waiting for us to respond to His invitation.
Why is a banquet an appropriate imagery of heaven? When there is food, there is pleasure and joy. It is a fact that our body needs food and pleasure to be in good health. But the joy of a meal is more than just eating delicious food; we need to have good company. Food is for the body but the company is for the soul. It is in sharing, laughing and celebrating that we experience the love of God in our community. What more when this banquet is a wedding banquet which is truly a celebration of love. This is why the summit of Catholic worship is the celebration of the Eucharist, which is an anticipation of heaven. Every Eucharist is a celebration of our wedding feast with the bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what the psalmist prays, “You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes.”
So right from the outset, this dream of God for humanity is a wonderful dream. Heaven on earth and in heaven is a beautiful place to be in. This concept of heaven should dispel all the false notions that to be a Catholic is to lose our joy in life. There are many who paint the Catholic Faith as a gloomy religion; that it is all about laws, fasting, doing penance, making sacrifices, dying and being at a disadvantage. No wonder, such bad news attract few to join the Church. To be a Christian is to find life to the fullest, for Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)
Rather, the Good News that Jesus comes to offer is the Good News of life, love and joy. It is the Good News that all will have a share in the life and love of God. There will be enough food for all and abundantly, if only the world is willing to share the resources they have with everyone. Unfortunately, 1% of the rich owns half of the world’s resources and the richest own 87% of the world’s wealth. This is the result of global inequality due to selfishness and irresponsibility. But in the vision of a heavenly banquet, when everyone lives a responsible life, contributing their best and sharing their resources with others as a community of love, then there will be joy and peace for all. As the prophet Isaiah said, “On this mountain he will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the shroud enwrapping all nations, he will destroy Death for ever.”
For this reason, the Good News that Jesus came to offer us is given to all. Regardless of whether we are Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, influential or marginalized, all are invited to this banquet of love, joy and sharing. In the gospel, Jesus told us the parable of the Wedding Banquet. The King firstly invited the Israelites and the Jews to the banquet. The king was still gracious when they did not come the first time, “he sent some more servants. ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have my banquet all prepared, my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, everything is ready. Come to the wedding.’”
However, we read that they rejected the prophets who invited them on behalf of God to the Mountain of Jerusalem. “But they were not interested: one went off to his farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his servants, maltreated them and killed them.” Most of all, they rejected the king’s son, that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the tragedy of grace being rejected. And many of us are just like the Jews as well. The truth is that the rejection of grace often need not be a blatant rejection but a preference for evil over goodness, immorality over morality. Such people certainly deserve condemnation and punishment, just like those who killed the prophets. We read that “the king was furious. He dispatched his troops, destroyed those murderers and burnt their town.” This note by the evangelist was made because Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 because the people did not repent by being humble and submissive. Their arrogance and rebelliousness caused the Roman authorities to overthrow the country.
But for most people, when they are invited to come to the banquet and the house of God, they appear to have valid excuses. Most people belong to this category. We read that “one went off to his farm, another to his business.” Indeed, many of us are preoccupied with other responsibilities. We are concerned about our jobs and our loved ones. We have to look after them, the young and the elderly. We have to be responsible in our job. Some of us are busy tending to our business as many workers depend on us to provide them an earning. The tragedy is that these people are short-sighted. They think that by just giving their energy and focus to their responsibilities, they can be successful and be happy. They fail to see the bigger picture of life, which is God, friends and the invitation to love and serve and belong to the family of God. It is this family that could give them the support and encouragement they need, rather than just going on alone. Most of all, although we are concerned about earthly responsibilities and temporal affairs, we must not lose sight of the eternal values of life, which is love, sharing, caring, fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters. Life is more than just work and making money. It is fellowship and communion with each other.
For those of us who are regular Church goers, the tragedy does not lie in the fact that we did not receive the invitation of God to come to the wedding feast. Indeed, we are here like those who were called from the wayside. “’The wedding is ready; but as those who were invited proved to be unworthy, go to the cross-roads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding.’ So these servants went out on to the roads and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike; and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” We are the fortunate ones who have been invited purely out of the grace of God. We are invited to the banquet not because of merit, status or position. It is purely by the grace of God that we have come to know Jesus as the Saviour and Lord.
The real tragedy lies in the fact that we come to the wedding feast without the wedding garment. This garment has been given to us at our baptism. In other words, we have been given the necessary graces to enter heaven to celebrate the Wedding feast. In those days, the wedding gown was provided for the guests. Hence, there was no excuse for the man to come to the Wedding without the Wedding garment. This explains why the man was silent when the King said to him, “How did you get in here, my friend, without a wedding garment?” He was irresponsible and callous, showing disrespect for his host and guests.
We too must also ask ourselves whether we have kept the baptismal garment given to us free from stain and that we put it on every day in our lives. To put on the baptismal garment means to put on Christ in our attitudes, thoughts and actions. The truth is that many of us are careless and irresponsible in our faith. We do not take the time to pray, to read the Word of God before every mass we celebrate. We do not treasure the sacraments of healing that the Church gives to us, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation. We neglect the sacraments. We fail to give Him worship on Sundays or make time to be with the Lord daily.
Indeed, if we are Catholic, we cannot carry on living a life of the world, a life of immorality and selfishness. We cannot go on living as if we have never met Christ or received His gospel. Our lives must be different from the rest of humanity. The gift of grace entails a corresponding responsibility. The Lord welcomes sinners into His kingdom but when we enter, we must put on Christ and become saints. Otherwise, we would have received the grace of God in vain.
The consequence of rejecting the grace of God or not receiving it responsibly is not so much the punishment of God but the deprivation of joy in our lives. “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’” It is not God who throws us out of the wedding banquet but we deprive ourselves of of the joy of sharing in the wedding banquet. We will fail to realize ourselves and the joy of love.
That was how St Paul lived his life after knowing Christ. He was indifferent to being poor or rich. He said, “I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty.” For St Paul, life is more than having riches and plenty of food. Richness in life is when we learn to trust God completely and learn to care for each other. “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships. In return my God will fulfil all your needs, in Christ Jesus, as lavishly as only God can.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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