by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente Missionaries.
New York, October 11, 2020. | XXVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Isaiah 25: 6-10a; Letter to the Philippians 4:12-14.19-20; Saint Matthew 22: 1-14.
When we meditate on the Parable of the workers in the vineyard who arrive at different times, we can only understand its message by realizing that the Kingdom of Heaven is a reality of right now. If it were something that is only at the end of this world, of course the landowner would be unjust in his way of paying the workers. We are called and we are needed… now.
Yes, possibly the most immediate lesson we can draw from today’s Parable of the royal Banquet is that the kingdom of heaven is for right now. In reality, we human beings need to fulfill our aspirations right away, as soon as possible. Or at least see that we are on the way to it.
We continually seek instant gratification. This is a universal trend, well studied by educators and psychologists. It is well known that this craving for immediate gratification can distract us from meeting more long-term goals, that we procrastinate by more enjoyable short-term activities. It is easy to see how delayed gratification is generally the wiser behavior, but we still struggle on a daily basis with the temptation to give in to our immediate desires.
We are so blind that we get lost in the search for that immediate gratification. Even in the things “of the world”, that satisfaction comes to us through others. This is the simple personal experience of a psychotherapist:
Coming out of my office late in the day I was greeted by a homeless man. “Do you have any change? I haven’t had anything to eat for two days.” After a full day of seeing clients I was tired, eager to get home. Yet I stopped. Not wanting to just hand him some money, I offered to buy him some food. “I’ll buy you a sandwich and something to drink.” He ordered a roast beef sandwich. “And why don’t we buy some fruit,” I added. “Thank you,” the man said, and I watched him heading with his paper bag stuffed with all this food to a bench across the street.
As I walked to the bus stop I noticed that I suddenly felt less tired. I realized that my burst of energy came from a feeling of instant gratification. In a matter of minutes and by simply doing a good deed I had made this homeless man happy. This simple action was life-giving. And nevertheless, there is no instant gratification in the work I do with my clients, many of whom suffer from diseases that need a very long treatment.
Sometimes we imagine the promises of Christ and the kingdom of heaven as something strictly for the future and that prevents us from responding to God’s act of generosity, which invites us right now to participate in his kingdom, in the midst of pain and difficulties, but with the growing assurance that everything we do in his name is a delicious dish for our neighbor. Surprisingly, Providence responds to our hunger for immediate gratification with a feast we should not miss.
Indeed, Christ begins his public life by announcing: The Kingdom of God is at hand (Mk 1:15). If the kingdom of heaven is only suffering, or if we compare it to the pleasure of eating a tasty and abundant dish, we would not have understood anything of what Jesus wants to tell us either.
But a banquet is something different. Even more so if it is the banquet offered by a king for the wedding of his son. When we have that image of the kingdom of heaven, our heart is filled with joy and we do not want to waste a minute to take our place. At such a banquet we not only eat and drink, but we also meet people, we make plans, we share joys and sorrows. And, most importantly, we enjoy the company of the King and his Son. Moreover, as the First Reading announces, at the end of our passage through this world, everyone will be able to contemplate the King, seated at the table next to them. Then He will destroy death forever and will wipe away the tears from all cheeks and eyes….
There is an especially important aspect in today’s parable. It is the care and interest that the King puts into the preparation of the banquet.
Some of you may remember a film, which is already a classic: Babette’s Feast (1987). It represents in a poetic and detailed way, the effort and care of the protagonist in preparing an unforgettable dinner, where she has the audacity to give everything she has. She is the cook and servant of two unmarried sisters, the daughters of a deceased Protestant minister, and Babette prepares a dinner, with sumptuous, and exotic ingredients, by spending a large amount of money that she has just won in the lottery and would have helped her start a new life. She gives her money and her talent: Until that moment, nobody knew that she had been Head Chef at the most famous restaurant in Paris.
It is impossible to prevent this film from reminding us of today’s Gospel: The guests are extremely varied, some enemies among themselves. Neither the King nor Babette are unaware that the dinner will be a moment of confession, of opening the hearts of the guests. Furthermore, the King knows that many of the diners will not be grateful, even reacting with contempt and hatred to the invitation. But from this ingratitude and lack of sensibility, even from violent reactions, the Holy Spirit takes advantage so that men of good will may better understand the patience and mercy of God.
The lessons of this parable are neither abstract nor exclusive to a certain type of sinner. They apply to all of us. For example, let us look at a difficulty we all face in the domain of charity: like some of the guests, we find it difficult to receive and welcome love properly.
Indeed, many times, because of our instinct for happiness, we float in the clouds and feel satisfied when we help someone. By doing so, we feel that our virtue, our knowledge or energy are… admirable before God and men.
But knowing how to accept the love and help of others is difficult. For example, a young person, a teenager, often refuses the advice or intervention of his parents in his affairs, however selfless that help may be. A superior or leader of a certain age will sometimes systematically reject the suggestions of younger people because “they lack experience” or because they are “imprudent” or “too conservative”. Many people who need mental health care refuse treatment. Others never give thanks for favors received, which is not only a lack of manners, but an attempt to deny one’s limits.
The stark reality is that it is often a symptom of jealousy, fear of losing control and, deep down, our eternal pride.
In the Second Reading we see the opposite example, in the way that St. Paul, a prisoner in Ephesus, expresses his gratitude for all the help and consolation of the Philippians. While St. Paul strongly desired to be self-sufficient as a missionary and support himself through his own work, he humbly accepted gifts as he engaged in his missionary work.
But the worst thing is that it happens to us as it does to many of the guests at the parable dinner: we reject the love that God offers us…or we do not use it as he expects.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus speaks of how the Word is received or rejected. But today he looks at what happens when the divine will comes to us through people like those sent by the King. Do we realize that God’s presence in every human being is a reality that challenges us?
As in the Parable of the Sower, we may think we are talking about different kinds of people, but surely it is more appropriate for each of us to understand it as a description of our ways of responding to the calls that God makes to us through our neighbors, as the King’s servants summoned the guests in today’s Parable.
Thus, we are represented by these types of guests:
* Those who ignore the invitation. These give no importance either to the compassion that God has sown in us or to the deep yearning of every human being, also placed in the heart by God himself. Thus, your relationships with others are superficial, limited only to moments where no special effort is needed, just continue doing what we know: our farm, our business, living the social life of custom, our religious rites…
* Those who kill the servants. They feel themselves accused, realize that their vices or indifference become visible and react with active or passive violence, refusing to convert. There are many ways to kill the servants, to our neighbor, which serves as an emissary more or less conscious of God. The most frequent is not to look him in the eye and therefore not to see the divine presence in his mediocre, incomplete, thirsty life…like our own.
* Those who want to enter the kingdom of heaven, but also want to keep something from their past life. Perhaps the following story will help us remember that you and I can be one of them:
A beggar lived near the king’s palace. One day he saw a proclamation posted outside the palace gate. The king was giving a great dinner. Anyone dressed in royal garments was invited to the party. The beggar looked at the rags he was wearing and sighed. Surely only kings and their families wore royal robes, he thought. Slowly an idea crept into his mind. Would he dare? He made his way back to the palace. He approached the guard at the gate. “Please, sir, I would like to speak to the king.” “Wait here,” the guard replied. In a few minutes he was back. “His majesty will see you,” he said, and led the beggar in.
“You wished to see me?” asked the king. “Yes, your majesty. I want so much to attend the banquet, but I have no royal robes to wear. Please, sir, if I may be so bold, may I have one of your old garments so that I, too, may come to the banquet?” The beggar shook so hard that he could not see the faint smile that was on the king’s face. “You have been wise in coming to me,” the king said. He called to his son, the young prince. “Take this man to your room and array him in some of your clothes.” The prince did as he was told and soon the beggar was standing before a mirror, clothed in garments that he had never dared hope for. “You are now eligible to attend the king’s banquet tomorrow night,” said the prince. “But even more important, you will never need any other clothes. These garments will last forever.” The beggar dropped to his knees. “Oh, thank you,” he cried. But as he started to leave, he looked back at his pile of dirty rags on the floor. He hesitated. What if the prince was wrong? What if he would need his old clothes again? Quickly he gathered them up. The banquet was far greater than he had ever imagined, but he could not enjoy himself as he should. He had made a small bundle of his old rags and it kept falling off his lap. The food was passed quickly and the beggar missed some of the greatest delicacies. Time proved that the prince was right. The clothes lasted forever. Still the poor beggar grew fonder and fonder of his old rags. As time passed people seemed to forget the royal robes he was wearing. They saw only the little bundle of filthy rags that he clung to wherever he went. They even spoke of him as the old man with the rags.
One day as he lay dying, the king visited him. The beggar saw the sad look on the king’s face when he looked at the small bundle of rags by the bed. Suddenly the beggar remembered the prince’s words and he realized that his bundle of rags had cost him a lifetime of true royalty. He wept bitterly at his folly. And the king wept with him.
It seems to me that the first ones do not live an authentic Recollection, the second ones do not keep a true Quietude and the and the third do not engage in an authentic prayer of true Union.
What does it mean, in practice, to welcome and to embrace divine love? There are many possible answers, but it all starts with a true offering of my thoughts, desires and motivations. This is the gateway to the Spirit of the Gospel. Everything else, we can say, are consequences. But the appetizer is always… prayer.