Wednesday, August 17, 2016

THE GREAT BANQUET


Homily for August 18th, 2016: Matthew 22:1-14.

          Bishops from all over the world are required to visit the Pope every five years. Speaking to the bishops of Switzerland in November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, now retired, spoke about the parable of the great banquet which we have just heard. Here is what he said.

            “Those who were invited first decline. God’s hall remains empty, the banquet seems to have been prepared in vain. This is what Jesus experienced in the last stages of his activity: official groups, the authorities, say No to God’s invitation. They do not come. His message, his call, ends in the human No.

          “However, the empty hall becomes an opportunity to invite a larger number of people. God’s love, God’s invitation, is extended more widely … beyond the boundaries of his own people, to all the world. Those who do not belong to God, according to Jewish ideas about the chosen people, are now invited to fill the hall. Thus the gospel becomes universal, influencing everything, eventually even at Rome, the great capital of Jesus’ world. There, as we read in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul summons the heads of the synagogue and proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when only a few accept Paul’s message, he tells them that he will proclaim it to Gentiles, and they will believe. 

          “What does all this mean for us?  First, it means one thing of which we can be certain: God does not fail … because through this [seeming failure] he finds new opportunities for far greater mercy. He finds ever new ways to reach people and to open wider his great house so that it is completely filled. He does not shrink from asking people to come and sit at his table, to eat the food of the poor in which the precious gift is offered, the gift of God himself. 

          “In the West, in Europe especially, the new ‘first guests’ now largely excuse themselves, they have no time to come to the Lord. On their visits bishops tell me about these refusals, and much other bad news as well. Yet at the same time I also hear this, precisely from the Third World: that people listen, that they come, that even today the message spreads along the roads to the very ends of the earth, and that people crowd into God’s hall for the banquet.”

          Even today, then, and despite all refusals, God’s hall is filled with guests. Praise and glory to Him, our divine host!