28th Sunday of Year A
What is your primary pursuit in this life?
My dear brothers and sisters, what do you strive for in life? Of all the treasures life has to offer, what is the one thing that you spend more time and energy pursuing than any other? For some of us, we pursue wealth more than anything else in life; others pursue fame, power, influence, self-importance or glory. These are the common pursuits prevalent across all social settings. Even within our faith communities, we see often volunteers playing politics, fighting with each other over who gets the more recognition for the work they do. And it is in our human nature that when something is important enough; when I want it bad enough, I will expend all my energy and time pursuing it. As Jesus said in Mt 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
By our baptism, God has adopted us as His very own sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ in the heavenly reward that awaits us. We are God’s chosen people. In the Gospel this week, Jesus tells us the Parable of the Wedding Feast. In this parable, the king prepared a lavish wedding feast and sent out his servants to call his invited guests. But the guests refused to come. The invited guests were the king’s chosen people. Yet they took their status for granted. They preferred their secular pursuits over the Kingdom of God – attending to their farms and their businesses (verse 5). Some even turned on God messengers, maltreating and killing them (verse 6). The parable is a stark warning to many Jewish believers in Jesus’ time. Like the invited guests in the parable, they too believed they are God’s chosen people. However, they took their status for granted and lived lives inconsistent with the teachings of God.
What about us? My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: in my pursuit for wealth, fame, power, influence, self-importance or recognition, have I become like these invited guests? I may come to church every week, got my children baptised, may be even serve in church ministry and give the occasional donation for good causes. In my eyes, I have done my part as God’s chosen people. However, let us ask ourselves again, what is the one thing that I spend more time and energy pursuing than any other? Do I love God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind (Mt 22:37)? Do I love my neighbour as myself (Mt 22:39)? Or is there something else that I pursue with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind? And if God sends me prophets – mentors, friends, priests – to lead my heart back to God, do I reject these messengers of God just as the invited guests did in the parable?
In the parable, what was the king’s response to the rejection of his invited guests? The king responded by extending the invitation to everyone in the street (verse 9), importantly, “both good and bad” were invited(verse 10). Many Jews of Jesus’ time assumed a superior complex based on their status of being God’s chosen people. They deemed others – the Samaritans, Gentiles and other races – as unworthy of the kingdom of God. My brothers and sisters, let us heed the warning of the parable. Do not make the same mistake as the Jews of Jesus’ time. Do not assume that just because I come to church, be baptised, participate in the rituals of worship, my place in the kingdom is assured. The fact is, my ritualistic worship by itself does not necessarily make me a better person than someone who is not a believer or does not practise the faith. God is asking for more than my ritualistic worship; He is asking for my heart. Otherwise, as Jesus warned us in the Gospel two weeks ago: “the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Mt 21:31).
The pursuit of the heart and mind of Jesus is the only path to true happiness. Everything else – wealth, fame, power, influence, self-importance or recognition – are simply blessings from God, given to us to serve the community and humanity. If we let these materialistic pursuits become the end goals, then true happiness will elude us. In fact, how often have we heard ambition ruining a person’s life? In pursuing wealth, power and self-importance, have I neglecting my loved ones and my spiritual growth? Have I brought much misery in my life as a result? In truth, when Jesus asks me to turn away from our secular pursuits and come back to Him, it is not for His sake but ours. In the parable, when rejected by the invited guests, the king “sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” (verse 7). This should be not be seen as a punishment but more as a warning. For in rejecting God in preference of secular pursuits, we bring destructions upon our own lives.
The materialistic pursuits of this life are transient in nature. As an old Chinese saying goes, we do not bring our possessions to this world when we were born; and we do not bring them with us when we die. Extending this teaching, we also need to understand that the hardship and sorrows of this life are transient as well. As the First Reading promised, on the final day, “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth” (verse 8). On the Last Day, When I am presented to the God at the wedding banquet, with “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (verse 7), what have I to show for my life? It will not be my wealth, fame, power, or reputation, since these belong to the world and I cannot bring them with me. Like the emperor with his imaginary new clothes, am I going to be standing naked before the Lord with nothing to show? Is the Lord going to say to me, “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me” (Mt 25:42-43). I will be like that wedding guest in the Gospel without a wedding garment to don on (verse 11). When confronted by the king, “he was speechless.” (verse 12)
For the sake for love, Jesus forwent his material comfort during his mission on earth. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Mt 8:20) Following in Jesus’ footsteps, St Paul told us in this week’s Second Reading: “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” (verse 12) The pursuit of materialistic gains is not an end and itself. They are means to help us serve God better, in feeding the poor, upholding of justice and bearing the Good News.
My brothers and sisters, with the grace of God, let us develop a sense of detachment to the materialistic lures of this world. May the Holy Spirit be upon us as we discern. Amen.