By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14
A very common imagery Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of heaven is that of a banquet, especially a wedding banquet. The immediate message these parables communicate to us is that of heaven as a place of endless joy and celebrations where there is party after party. Both the first and gospel readings of today’s Mass also paint this picture for us where the prophet Isaiah talks about the vision of a feast of rich foods and fine wines while Jesus tells the parable of the marriage feast a king threw for his son. Little wonder that song says “Heaven is full of joy.” These readings present us with several lessons, but we shall take just three.
Heaven is a place of Joy: There is something about feasts and banquets and parties that bring joy to the attendees. In itself, every feast is a joyful occasion, which is why people look forward to them. By the way, who doesn’t want rich foods and fine wines? The first reading, responsorial psalm and gospel reading of today all talk about feasts prepared for us by God himself. These are all pointers that unlike the thought the devil wishes to communicate to our minds that heaven is boring, where all we shall do is sing the praises of God, heaven on the contrary, is a place of joy, where there is party after party. Little wonder the petty catechism says “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.” When Saint Peter caught a glimpse of this heavenly party, he never wanted that vision to end, so he told Jesus, “Let us build three tents…” and remain here (Mt 17:4). If this be so, as indeed it is, then we must do all that is necessary to spend our eternity there. One of the greatest pains of not going to heaven is the pain of realizing the joys that we will miss.
Some of the things that will make some people miss heaven are legitimate concerns: According to the parable of Jesus, some of those invited by the king but who made excuses were for legitimate concerns – one went off to his farm, another to his business, and according to Luke’s gospel narrative, one wanted to be with his new wife and another to try his plough on his new pair of oxen on the farm (Lk 14:16-24). It is from this parable that we get the song I cannot come. So we see that in themselves, these are not bad reasons/excuses; and what this goes on to say to us is that many people too are too busy with other legitimate concerns of time that they neglect the necessity of preparing for eternity. Anything that we will be too busy doing such that we do not have time for God needs to be re-evaluated. As Jesus says, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his soul” (Mk 8:36), thus, whatever we do, we must never be too busy to have time for God or to prepare for our eternity. In the seminary, a priest once told us never to be too busy doing the work of God that we forget the God of the work. These are few words, but very powerful words. I therefore say to you too, never be too busy with your work, your business, your education, your family life, your recreation, your career pursuit and your general concerns for life to the point that you no longer have time for God and to take care of your soul. A very common excuse I get from people who have not being to confession for a long time is that they have been very busy! Can you imagine that? Too busy to have a spiritual bath! Today, child of God, as God reminds us of the joys of heaven, let us keep in mind that it is great folly to be busy pursuing our everyday life’s concerns to the point that we miss heaven. Whatever it is we are pursuing today is for time, but heaven is for eternity.
The disposition with which we come before God is of great importance: In the parable of our gospel reading, one man appeared in the banquet hall without a wedding garment and he was ordered to be bound and thrown out, meaning he came to the party but left with nothing from the party. The lesson from this goes deeper than mere outward appearance and the kind of garment worn, which is only symbolic for something far greater. Ordinarily, the way we appear for an event shows our inner disposition for that event. A person who goes to a job interview dressed shabbily communicates a deeper message to the interviewers by his appearance; a person who goes to a party dressed for sports also communicates a message to every guest there, and more so, to the host. By implication therefore, our inner disposition as we appear before God determines what we get out of God’s feast of rich foods and fine wines. And here, God expects that as we come into his banquet hall, we should come in the garment of humility, the garment of faith, the garment of sincere repentance, the garment of submission to the will of God, the garment of true desire to worship God. Anyone who appears before God without these garments shall leave as empty as he/she came. It is for lack of these garments that many people appear before God in prayers and leave empty, as it were, bound hand and foot, then they complain that God does not answer their prayers. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee who came to the temple to pray is very instructive here (Lk 18:9-14). So if we must enjoy God’s feast and join in the party after party, then we must put on the necessary garments.
Today, most importantly, the message of the Word of God for us is that heaven is place that is worth it, one worth all the sacrifices it demands of us, and we must do all in our power to get there. We pray for the grace to readily accept the Master’s invitation. Amen