Homily for Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
RESTING IN THE LORD! Isn’t that one or our objectives today? We come to Mass to “Rest in the Lord,” as the Psalmist wrote: “In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me;” he refreshes my soul.”
Hearing the 23rd Psalm once again—We’re hearing it for the 4th time this year and will once more if that option is taken on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2nd –we’re reminded that it is a Psalm of consolation; confidence and trust in God taking care of us, soothing our souls. God is the God of hospitality—rewarding any weary traveler who arrives, freely, willingly with reverence and deference to the Source of All Being. We know this because the Psalmist is already a person of faith—through whom we are invited to see ourselves as rightfully and utterly dependent upon God.
Jesus’ parable extends the 23rd Psalm with its image of God as the great host, but he embellishes it with a shot of reality: everyone is invited to the Lord’s banquet—the table is ready, but many won’t attend. Some are busy with other things; others refuse outright; others protest with downright hostility. We should not be surprised by the range of these refusals. We all consider them–each in our own way, yes, even those of us who chose to be at Worship this afternoon. Why the confusion? Why the mixture of feelings of approach / avoidance / willingness / uncertainty?
Because coming into the presence of God can be exacting. It requires surrender to the Spirit which in many ways confronts our busy lives, our preoccupations that so readily keep “Christ consciousness” at bay; distractions that feed our illusions that we are as self-sufficient, self-reliant, masters of our own ships and vehicles. We arrive at mass hoping we may take away some new insight, some thought for the day or concept to get us through the week, but we still may leave without a genuine experience of God. We know this because our mixture of desire and ambivalence at Mass often comes from the knowledge that it takes determination and great effort on our part—far more than simply setting time set aside—be it for this for Mass, or prayers throughout each day, time for contemplating Scriptures alone and/or with others as part of our daily or weekly routine. We have these tools at our fingertips—all of us, these are the timeless tools for every age, but, like in the times of Jesus and forever after, our busy schedules and daily distractions may prevent us from the deep surrender that allows God to minister to us, Jesus to anoint our heads with oil, the Holy Spirit to make more of this meal of words and bread and wine. The point of all this: relationships take time, require tender care; insist that we persevere in vulnerability – not to everyone or everything but to the Father, Son and Spirit. Here. Now. What we experience at Mass is meant, by its weekly repetition to develop in us the facility of accepting the Tenderness of Jesus in all places, all situations, all engagements.
Relationships take time and willingness to be still. Without that we keep living lives of avoidance –running from God, from intimacy with God and others. There was a song by folk singer Harry Chapin that became a # 1 hit in back in 1974. It played for months on end, and for many years afterward–so strongly did people relate to it. Entitled “The Cats in the Cradle,” it was about a father obsessed with work and scheduled activities, who neglects (if not outwardly avoids) spending time with his growing son. When the man retires and seeks, (finally!) some quality time with his son, he finds his offspring busy with many things: Like Martha in the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary. The refrain went like this: And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon “When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, dad, we’re going to have a good time then.” I.e., the time that never happened, the time that will never come.
Stillness. Quiet. Prayerful Intimacy. Surrendering our sense of time—that’s the goal of every mass! Maybe it should take more than an hour! How much time would we need to learn the art of vulnerability with God, contemplative receptiveness, to hold and cultivate this Eucharistic reality beyond our time together. I could remind you that in other parts of the world each Mass goes on for hours, with greater lengths of song and silence, of words and contemplative prayer, Words leading up to Eucharist and savoring the awareness God is present! God is within! God is everywhere –in you, in me, in our breathing, in the beating of our hearts, in activating our minds with story, with songs and images—bestowed on the faithful for our benefit.
And, yet, like the Israelites in the desert complaining to Moses, we’re impatient, we want to get going, we want to move on. To what? In their case the Promised Land but, as they found out, the land required work- — yes, required work, required patience, required cooperation, and, often the people made a mess of it. The Bible tells us they even lost it. Well, not completely lost, but certainly long delayed and still not yet fulfilled. You and I are equally guilty of delaying the intimacy with God that we continue to seek, delaying the intimacy through experiences of Jesus as Sacrament that we still take for granted by not investing the necessary patience, the hard work of total surrender.
Still, each Mass is an opportunity. We begin by admitting our impatience with God (perhaps that is the most common, universal “sin!”) — thus the Kyrie and penitential aspects of the GLORIA! We give praise to God while acknowledging we so often forget to do so! Then we must follow through by an act of decision and free will to fully surrender to the power of the Scriptures—words and images–and the sensations of the Eucharist, Holy Meal that it is, to savor the Christ With US and IN US. In other words, literally taking Jesus with us as we go to work, to home, to leisure. In the parable, some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. We pray today, we won’t lose the bigger picture because we are often busy, over-scheduled and / or burnt out.
In the parable, the king said to one of the guests, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ The Wedding Garment represents a converted life full of good deed. Sinners are invited but are expected to repent and willingly clothe themselves in perpetual holiness —as envisioned in The Book of Revelation as those wearing the white robes of the elect Clothing ourselves in Christ is meant to be the purpose, the ultimate attainment of our lives. Is Christ in our business suits? Our leisurewear? Our comfortable pajamas and nightgowns? What does that mean? It means we wear patience and kindness to ourselves and others, we see all life as prayer, we cultivate tenderness as strength, correct wrongs in charitable ways – filled with understanding and HOPE.
Today’s Gospel warns all believers against complacency. Jesus offers the Vision of Isaiah – a great banquet available to all people, saints and sinners alike. He incarnates the soothing words of the Psalm: restful waters, banquets overflowing with healing nourishment anticipating the taste of wheat on our tongues, the welcoming, healing power of the Mass. A vision we can savor, maintain and perpetuate — or not. The Vision has it’s time, it will not delay—the banquet is PIPING HOT, i.e. ever-ready. I often return to the words of the prophet Habakkuk 2:3 and invite you to do the same: For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
NOW is the TIME for there is no time like the present. As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians: 13 I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. . .. 19 My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” And, as Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Scriptures: “Where your treasure is, there, also will you heart be.” Peace!