Second Sunday after Pentecost (Corpus Christi)
"The Great Feast"
By Rev. Stephen Murphy O.M.I.
A - The Great supper to which guests are invited is the feast of happiness the elect enjoy in the world hereafter. It is called supper because it comes in the evening of our lives after we have been laboring since morning in the master's service. It is the ultimate rest and refreshment, the anticipation of which sustains us under the burden of the day and the heat. When night is at last come and no one can work longer, we hope not to be left in the darkness of the grave. We hope to be admitted into the glory of Christ's kingdom. There the festival of blessedness is spread for us. There will be fulfilled our expectations of life everlasting.
Most of us have seen people of wealth and influence give a great supper in their homes and send out invitations. We have seen the guests arriving for the hour of festivities pleased and gratified beyond measure by the kind welcome accorded them by the host and his friends. What a happy gathering when everyone endeavors to appear at his best and to add to the general enjoyment! Eyes that were dim shine with a new light. Pale faces glow with the freshness of spring. Hearts that were sad beat fast to the pulse of melody. The voice of singing and merry laughter would seem for the moment to have banished care and pain while the festive fare is served and cups are filled with cheer.
Yet, there is something wanting to complete the happiness of this gathering. It is this - the happiness cannot last. The sound of music and merriment soon ceases. Silence and darkness envelop the banquet hall. The guests have departed. Each merry-maker treads his lonely pathway back to the world of hardships, with an intimate feeling that worldly pleasure wearies, more than it rejoices, the restless heart of man. He is convinced that he must seek elsewhere if he will find rue peace for his soul.
But it is far otherwise at that happy gathering - the Great supper in Paradise - to which myriads of the blessed will welcome us at the hour of dying. Nothing vain or fleeting, nothing hollow or disappointing, will mar our perfect rest and refreshment in those mansions of everlasting bliss prepared for us by Christ from the foundation of the world. We shall sit down together in the kingdom of God. "We shall be inebriated," says the psalmist (Psalm xxxv, 9), "with the plenty of His house." We shall drink of the torrent of pleasure flowing from the fountain of life. The feast we shall partake of is the feast of the vision of God. Yet our eyes shall not weary of seeing nor shall our ears be filled with hearing those entrancing spiritual enjoyments that mortal tongue cannot utter.
To participate in this feast of blessedness almighty God has invited the entire human race. He has invited individuals among us of every class and condition in life; because, being the Creator of all, He wishes none of His creatures to be lost. "God will have all men to be saved," says St. Paul (I. Tim. ii, 4), "and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
B - But many among the Jews failed to take advantage of the offer of God. Our Savior describes them as persons to whom was vouchsafed the favor of a special invitation. They were the priests and scribes, the Pharisees and elders, the educated and more respectable class, whom the Jewish nation as a whole looked upon as leaders and examples in religious matters. If they were men of power and influence, their power and influence were of no avail for their spiritual well-being, since the pride of wealth, the passionate pursuit of gain, and attachment to persons in the world had corrupted their hearts and made it impossible for them to enter the heavenly kingdom.
"I have bought a farm," says the first person invited, "and I must needs go out and see it. I pray thee, hold me excused." The pride of possessing an estate, satisfaction at being owner and master of a piece of land, fills his mind to the exclusion of everything else. He would far rather see his farm than see the Great Supper. He cares more for his worldly possession than he cares for the possession of heaven. And yet our Savior tells us the kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure of infinite value to obtain possession of which we should sell all that we have.
"I have bought five yoke of oxen, " says the second person invited, "and go to try them. I pray thee hold me excused." Not the pride of possessing property, but the passion of acquiring more property, leads this second man to refuse the invitation of God. He is engrossed with the pursuit of gain and the cares of business transactions. "Shall success or failure attend the bargain I have made?" Such is the anxiety that haunts him walking or sleeping. Intent upon providing for his bodily and material welfare, begs to be excused from any business connected with the welfare of his immortal soul. Yet what will it profit the man to gain the whole world if he lose his immortal soul?
The third person invited declines the offer of salvation because of attachment to persons of the world. "Have I not a banquet of my own," he exclaims, "attended by my newly wedded wife and friends?" He does not even allege an excuse but gives a straight and unqualified refusal. He simply says, "I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come." In his case, love and esteem for his own household surpass his love of God and esteem for the Divine benefits. He limits his happiness within the bounds of his earthly home and dwelling without thinking of providing for himself and for those near and dear to him an imperishable home and dwelling in the better world beyond the grave. What a luminous comment on our Savior's own words: "If any one come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and his wife and children, and brethren . . . he is not worthy of Me." (Luke xiv, 26).
Thus, my dear brethren, has our blessed Lord, the Teacher of mankind, set forth in the popular language of the parable, three reasons why the influential class of Jews failed to respond to the message of God calling them to eternal life. We may gauge the gravity of their offense as well by their special aptitudes for appreciating the blessings of heaven as by the fact that they had pledged themselves to accept the Divine invitation.
The promises that God had revealed to His chosen people were familiar to them. they were intimately acquainted with both the Holy Scriptures and the sacred traditions of their forefathers. Their superior knowledge of religious things made it easier for them to understand who the Messiah should be. When they saw Jesus multiplying the loaves, stilling the waters, healing the sick, and raising the dead, were they not better able than others to see that the finger of God was there, and that the miracles of our blessed Lord proved His claim that He was the Son of God?
They had pledged and committed themselves, so to speak, to accept the Divine invitation by the very profession of the Jewish faith; because the Jewish faith, its practices, its forms and prophecies, were founded on the expectation of a Redeemer to come. If they entertained the expectation that God was to send them a Savior, this implied that they should welcome that Savior when on His arrival He announced that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. "Come to the feast, for now all things are ready."
How outrageous, therefore, does their conduct appear when they not only failed to welcome the Son of God, but openly boasted of their incredulity and indifference in this regard! "Hath any one of the leaders believed in Him, or the Pharisees?" With what bitterness did their envious hearts denounce the common people who received Jesus with open arms. "This multitude that knows not the law is accursed."
Their thoughts were of the earth, earthly; and they were sorely disappointed that the Messiah had not come to found a temporal kingdom and power in which they themselves should hold the first places. In other words, they preferred the advantages of wealth and rank; they preferred the keen interest of business pursuits and high family connections to the glory of God and the honor of His Divine Son. It was a woeful perversion that carried with it its own punishment - exclusion from the heavenly kingdom. "But I say unto you, not one of those men that were invited shall taste of My Supper."
C - The poor and lowly of spirit alone were to be admitted to the feast. Christ, indeed, came into the world to preach the Gospel to the poor, the poor among Jews, the poor among the Gentiles. The poor of the Jewish nation were the lost sheep of Israel, publicans and sinners, "the accursed multitude that knows not the law." The parable speaks of them as being lame, and blind, and feeble, as well as poor and destitute of dwelling. "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in hither the poor, and the feeble, and blind, and the lame." Hence, from out God's chosen nation, the kingdom of Christ was to be filled especially by the ignorant, the spiritually sick, the spiritually needy, the despised and the outcast.
The poor amongst the Gentiles are represented in the parable as persons that dwell outside the city limits. They wander homeless and houseless in the country round about, seeking their night's rest in the ditches and under the shelter of hedges. "Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that My house may be filled."
Remark that the hearten nations, in a particular manner, appealed to the mercy of God. They were the most degenerate and morally degraded of the whole race of man. They were subjected to every species of physical evil - want, disease, loneliness and sorrow. They were not only unacquainted with the means of salvation, but they were continually and hopelessly sinking deeper into the guilt of a false pagan morality that admitted the worst crimes against God's majesty, against the sacred rights of others, and against the vital interests of self and personal happiness.
Having thus tasted all the bitterness of separation from God, they were the more ready to welcome the Savior and to place a high value on the relief He brought them from sin and hopeless misery. The all-powerful word of God and likewise the sweet attraction of His sovereign mercy constrained them to accept the kind invitation. They were compelled, to use the expression of the parable, by the very calamities of their state to seek refuge in Christ that the house of God might be filled.
Remark that the heathen nations, in a particular manner, appealed to the mercy of God. They were the most degenerate and morally degraded of the whole race of man. They were subjected to every species of physical evil - want, disease, loneliness and sorrow. They were not only unacquainted with the means of salvation, but they were continually and hopelessly sinking deeper into the guilt of a false pagan morality that admitted the worst crimes against God's majesty, against the sacred rights of others, and against the vital interests of self and personal happiness.
Having thus tasted all the bitterness of separation fro God, they were the more ready to welcome the Savior and to place a high value on the relief He brought them from sin and hopeless misery. The all-powerful word of God and likewise the sweet attraction of His sovereign mercy constrained them to accept the kind invitation. They were compelled, to use the expression of the parable, by the very calamities of their state to seek refuge in Christ that the house of God might be filled.
We Christians are the children of these pagan nations, who from the lips of Christ, and from the lips of Christ's ambassadors, His Apostles and missionaries, were blessed with receiving the invitation to the celestial banquet. Through our forefathers who were saved from the midst of the valley and shadow of death, the invitation to salvation has been extended to us, so that we likewise may be made partakers of God's blessings. Continually almost daily, is the invitation brought before our minds by those who have been empowered by Christ to preach His holy Gospel and deliver His message of redemption.
We have pledged ourselves in more ways than one to be present at the feast. The Divine mysteries and the things of heaven have been cherished by us as our greatest treasure ever since the day when, coming forth from the waters of baptism, we proclaimed ourselves the disciples of Christ to be guided in the paths of truth and goodness by the Church He established. We bear upon our brows the seal of confirmation. Thereby we have engaged ourselves to be patient in enduring trials for the sake of Christ that the possession of His glory in the life to come may be the reward of our suffering in this world below. We acknowledge our sinfulness before the priest in the tribunal of penance. We bow our heads and strike our breasts with sorrow and humility that our poverty and the spiritual necessities that we lay bare before God may be filled with His heavenly abundance. In the banquet of the Eucharist we partake of that living Bread that came down from heaven. This, for us, is the best assurance that we will one day enter into life everlasting.
Let us draw a final instruction from the fate of those who were excluded from the feast. Like them we are exposed to entertain an exceeding self-consciousness of our personal superiority. We may perhaps be better situated than most men, better acquainted with religious truths, hence seemingly better fitted for appreciating the favors of God. But let us be on our guard against the threefold danger that was the ruination of the better class of Jews. How many Christians, proud of the importance that rank and wealth give them in society, have their hearts hardened to the poor and suffering! How many seemingly would barter their souls for gain! By any and every means, honest or dishonest, they strive day and night to acquire more riches. Not a single effort do the make to lay up treasures for themselves in heaven. Finally, experience tells us that Christians, as well as others, often loose sight of God's holy law amid the forbidden pleasures they enjoy in the society and companionship of others.
If we wish to be admitted to the Great supper and participate in the vision of glory, we must take the means to avoid these dangers that were the undoing of so many Jews. In the enjoyment of wealth, in the pursuit of gain, in our affection for others, let us always keep in view the one thing necessary: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things will be added unto you" (Mat vi, 33).