Posts Tagged Priorities
According to Jewish tradition, the resurrection of the just, and the subsequent setting up of the kingdom of God, was to be ushered in by a great festival in which all of the chosen people would participate. Hence their saying: ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.’
What does it mean to “eat bread in the kingdom of heaven”? In the ancient world the most notable sign of favor and intimate friendship was the invitation to “share bread” at the dinner table or the table fellowship. Who you ate with showed who you valued and trusted as your friends. One of the most beautiful images of heaven in the scriptures is the royal wedding celebration and banquet given by the King for his son and close friends.
The gospel parable that we just heard is commonly known as the Parable of the Great Feast. Let us be reminded that in the Gospel Jesus usually uses parables to describe and explain the characteristics and mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven. Through this Parable the Lord remind us of God the Father’s invitation to the greatest banquet in heaven. Included and implied in this invitation are the following:
First, God wants all men and women to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and come to the fullness of knowledge of Jesus who is the Way, Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6).
Second, God wants His people to be happy with him in the kingdom of heaven. This is also reiterated to us by the Church when she teaches, “To be in blessed and intimate communion with God is the fulfillment of the deepest longing of the human, a state of supreme and definitive happiness.”
Third, God wants His people to value and prioritize heaven over corporal, material and earthly things which may pass away.
It is frightening to note, however, that those who were not able to attend the great feast were not those who refused to come; they merely had other important things to do. They were simply more concerned and pre-occupied with corporal, material and temporal problems—for example, a piece of ground, a yoke of oxen, or a wife. As we look at the part possessions and relations play in this parable, we can see that there is great risk in them—risk that concern for temporal things may cloud our view of what is eternally important.
Do we see heaven as our ultimate goal? Are we really serious with our ultimate destiny? If yes, Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of God is a matter of urgency and top priority. Mere words are not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Action is needed. It demands our positive and concrete response here and now. It demands that we give everything to it. Else we would be shut out forever from the Kingdom of heaven.
How many times does God call us to repentance, conversion, and new life only to be ignored because there are more pressing things to attend to? How many times God continues to teach, sanctify and lead us through the Bible or through Church, her ministers and sacraments only to be taken for granted because there are more important things to do?
In today’s Mass, let us once gain focus our attention to heaven which is our ultimate destiny and goal. As we journey towards our ultimate home, let us hate evil, hold on to what is good, true and pleasing to the Lord, then help building up and spreading the kingdom of God here on earth until it is perfected in heaven. As the Lord said: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33).
The new millennium has witnessed and continues to witness various and different faces of violence, division and situations of unpeace. Hardly any day passes that we do not hear the sad news of violent aggression and brutality unleashed against innocent people somewhere around the world. To make matters worse, perpetrators of these acts of violence often try to justify these atrocities by claiming that they are fighting a holy war in God’s name. Think of the crusades, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. And the latest is the ISIS or ISIL.
Today’s readings are indeed a call to war: not a war against other people but a war against sin and evil; not a war against people we perceive as evil, but a war against the evil one, the devil.
Jesus shocked his disciples when he declared that he would cast fire and cause division rather than peace upon the earth. This is a disturbing word knowing Jesus as the Prince of Peace who has come “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79) and to dispense peace “among those whom he favors” (Lk 2:14) Here he makes it clear that he cast fire and brings division rather than peace. In Matthew’s parallel verse (10:34), Jesus brings a sword.
Is Jesus contradicting himself on his teachings about love peace and unity? Is Jesus contradicting himself the fourth precept of the Decalogue or Ten Commandment which is, “Honor your father and mother!” Certainly not. Jesus, in saying those paradoxical words, did not intend to destroy family and other human relations, ties and institutions. Rather he was only telling his disciples, in a forceful language, the following:
First, to choose and to follow Jesus is a matter of personal choice. No can one can make decision for us. Not even the Church or the State. Not even our family. And when we choose, either we choose and follow Jesus or reject him. There is no middle way. There is no half-way. There is no other alternative. There is no other option. Please bear in mind that our sanctification and salvation depend on the kind of choice we make. Choose God and you choose life, happiness and peace.
Second, if we opted to choose and follow Jesus then our loyalty, obedience and faithfulness to him must be urgent, exclusive and unparalleled. When it comes to hierarchy of values and priorities in life, God always takes precedence over possessions and relations. To choose and follow Jesus only and always may sometimes bring division and conflict. This is the necessary consequence and cost of following Jesus. This substantially explains the paradoxical words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Third, Jesus’ message of love, peace and unity does not necessarily mean that we compromise with evil and tolerates injustices and wrong-doings. Peace and unity that we rightly desire can be achieved not by compromise, force and violence but by doing the will of God for us and through us. Let this Christian moral principles always guide us: Do good and hate sin! Love sinner and hate evil!
In today’s Mass, Jesus invites all of us to examine who we love first and foremost. Does the love of Jesus Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (2 Corinthians 5:14)? A true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ. Jesus insists that his disciples give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is higher than spouse or kin because it is possible that family and friends can become our enemies when they prevent and hinder us from following and serving the Lord.
Let our “faith in God leads us to turn to him alone as our first origin and our ultimate goal, and neither to prefer anything to him nor to substitute anything for him” (CCC 229).