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The Biggest Party on Earth

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Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

CLICK HERE FOR THE VIDEO VERSION OF THE HOMILY

Resources for this Sunday’s homily –

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis – Fire of Mercy –  Heart of the Word, Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew – Volume III

Christopher West, Fill These Hearts – God, Sex and the Universal Longing

The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.

For joy and celebration were we created, and so this parable will be a test of how much each of us is still in touch with the vocation to joy native to our deepest being.  Where there is fullness of life, there joy will naturally overflow.  After a certain point, the two concepts of life and joy naturally blur into each other, and fulfilled man is the one who cannot tell the difference between them.” (ELM – page 481)

The chief priests, scribes, and the Pharisees are trying to arrest Jesus and have him eliminated in order to “keep him from sowing in their midst the threatening chaos of unpredictable joy.” (ELM – page 481)

Jesus never retaliates in kind. Every new insult and rejection sees only to stimulate his creativity and desire to persuade.  And it is not just any parable that he tells at this point, but a story that soars high above the turmoil of base human passions and appeals to his listeners’ deepest instinct for happiness and thirst for joy.  The more the authorities confronting him insist on a policy of control, repression and ossification as alone capable of preserving their religious tradition – the more, that is, they reveal their principles for a would-be kingdom of man – the more Jesus holds forth fascinating images of the Kingdom of God.

Where man seeks to establish a semblance of peace and order by containing life, boxing I spontaneity, and homogenizing differences, God fosters the deepest potential for joy and delight in each of us by drawing us together for a celebration that will nourish and transform us into a universal communion of body, mind, and heart.”

In all of these parables of the Kingdom, we again note that the one who toils hardest is the father or the landowner, that is, God himself.  We have seen this in the parable of the workers in the vineyard and, just now, in the parable of the wicked tenants. In the present parable we have a king who want to throw the greatest part on earth on the occasion of his beloved son’s wedding.  We are struck by his great personal involvement in every detail of the arrangements, similar to the minute description of the landowner planting his vineyard:  Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.

I have made ready my dinner: he must, of course, have been aided by hundreds of servants at every stage of the preparation; yet the feast has such primordial importance for himself that he has watched carefully over every stage of its planning and execution. (ELM – page 482)

…but they refused to come

In what fairy tale do we have this radical reversal of a prince who must plead for the love of the last of his scullery maids?  Indeed, this is a reversal that stands Platonism on its head, just as Jesus’ parables stand all mythology and fairy tales on their head.  Since when has the Highest pleased with the Lowest, gone out to the Lowest?  At every step, we sense Jesus bursting with the desire to whisper under his breath to the chief priests and elders: ‘Do you not realize that I am he, the Son of the King of the Universe, who has come to woo your souls?’ (ELM – page 484)

God’s joyous and generous call to man, wishing to share his company and to bestow all kinds of good things on him, resounds throughout Scripture, and, astoundingly, it is always met with the same negative response as we here see the invited guests give to the messengers: they would not come to the feast.  (ELM – pages 484,  485)

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.  

Repentance for sins, interior conversion, and joyful participation in the royal Son’s wedding are all aspects of the Christian life that belong together, each step leading to the next.  Clearly, the greatest obstacle to admission to the Kingdom is not sin as such but rather the arrogant attitude that refuses to grasp God’s hand when it is graciously and gladly extended.  Pretending, both to oneself and to God, that one needs nothing that one cannot acquire on one’s own may possibly be the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’ that cannot be forgiven precisely because it is a refusal of forgiveness.  To care or not to care about how God views reality, views me, and approaches me: that is the question!

The refusal to change one’s way, to see things in a fresh manner through God’s eyes, by definition implies a terminal fixation on one’s own world view.  But such a stance never remains static, self-contained, because the logic of the ego is always expansionist: it cannot rest until it comes to control all of reality.  This leads to the attempt to expand one’s private world view forcefully and continually acquire new territory with oneself, of course, at the epicenter of the universe.  All opposition to this goal must be removed.  Self-fixation never remains merely interior but must inevitably lead to massive violence.  We can ‘murder’ another by our indifference, disdain, neglect, abandonment, and passive-aggressiveness, all of which are merely more subtle forms of murderous violence. (ELM – 489)

Loss of control then induces anxiety, anxiety generates anger, and anger finally explodes into violence.  The insight into this overarching linkage between inactivity and violence provides us with one of the most previous instruments to explore and hopefully heal our human condition of habitual boredom, loss of meaning, and chronic wretchedness.

For those who think that meaning and happiness in life can only be produced by one’s own planning and striving, the spontaneous offer of unearned rest, joy, and delight will come as an absurdity and a provocation that touch raw nerves.  Why?  Because above rest, joy, and delight we value our made autonomy as masters of our life and destiny.  To be offered rest freely by another is perceived by our ego as a mocking condescension and a threat of extermination.  For, if my life ultimately receives fullness of meaning and joy for another what will I have left to accomplish?  And, unless I am continually accomplishing my own designs and giving shape to my life, will I even exist?  How can I be said to exist unless I am continually leaving my mark, or smudge on the world? (ELM – 490, 491)

But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’

The public ministry of Jesus begins with this proclamation: repent and believe.  It is interesting to note the word order of the proclamation: conversion precedes belief.  The absence of the wedding garment signifies that conversion or metanoia has not taken place and immediate expulsion from the wedding banquet must take place.

From ELM – When we see the symbol of the wedding garment in the whole context of this particular celebration, we realize that the special accent of the symbol is its reference to the beauty now possessed by its wearer.  This beauty is the result of the invitation generously extended and wholeheartedly accepted.  By its dynamic nature, and because of the energy with which the king has charged it, this invitation possesses a transformative power. (page 517)

Practical Application

We were created by God for joy and celebration in this life and in eternal life.  Our experience of joy in this life is incomplete.  The fullness of joy can only be experienced in eternity.

While we journey towards eternity, we have a choice of what are diet will be.

Choice #1 – The Starvation Diet

“This isn’t Christianity.  This is stoicism. This is lifeless legalism.  To kill our desires is suicide of the soul.  This tragedy is increased tenfold when this suicide is committed under the conviction that this is precisely what Christianity recommends.  We have never been more mistaken.” (CW – page 16)

The stoic tries to avoid the pain of desiring more than this life has to offer by choosing not to want so much, by shutting desires down. As a stoic, I’m afraid of the thirst in my soul to the point of not wanting to feel it, and certainly not wanting to open it up.  Life’s easier that way, and I can feign a certain peace: nothing really troubles me, and nothing really excites me either.  But this is the unmoved peace of a corpse at the morgue.  It’s lifeless, vapid.  It exchanges red-hot lifeblood for the blue-cold embalming fluid.  Stoics are usually very well meaning and are rightly concerned about how desires can be impure and misdirected.  But rather than working to redirect desire toward its proper end, they shut desire down in favor of a dutiful life. (CW – page 33)

  1. People who light candles and do not have a personal relationship with Jesus.
  2. People who use the seven sacraments of the Church like voodoo, merit badges or as mere cultural custom and tradition.
  3. People who look at Mass attendance like jury duty.

Starvation diet people do nothing for the parish community.  They never lift a finger to help with anything and even though they have financial resources, these are the people that continually put a dollar in the basket every Sunday.  

Choice #2 – The Fast Food Diet

“A person can starve himself for only so long before the choice becomes clear: either I find something to eat, or…I’m gonna die.  The hunger of eros eventually becomes so painful that the prospect of relief – wherever it can be found – trumps all fear of breaking the rules.

This is why the culture’s fast-food gospel – the promise of immediate gratification through indulgences of desire – inevitably wins large numbers of converts from the starvation diet gospel.  I don’t know about you, but if the only two choices are starvation or greasy chicken nuggets, I’m going for the nuggets.” (CW – page 23)

“The addict, on the other hand, tries to avoid the pain of wanting more than this life has to offer by gorging on the things this life does have to offer, trying to suck infinity out of finite things.  But, finite things, as we have discussed, can never satisfy our yearning for the infinite.  Once I’ve attained what I thought I wanted but I’m still left wanting, what do I think I need?  More.  Then when I attain more and it still doesn’t satisfy me, what I do I think I need? More and more and more…This is why the fast-food gospel leads not to satisfaction and happiness, but to addiction and despair.  And yet, although the addict may be on a fast-track to self-destruction, at least he is in touch with his desire.  As such, he holds something in common with the mystic.” (CW – page 33)

Choice #3 – The Banquet

A mystic is someone who is able to ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord’ in all of life’s circumstances and events, and in all of his creation, even amidst trials and sufferings.  A mystic is someone who had been captivated by the fragrance and beauty of divine love, and nothing can thwart his or her desire for ever deeper intimacy with the Divine Lover.

In short, a mystic is someone who has entered God’s love song, hears it everywhere, and can’t help but dance because of it.” (CW – page 35)