The readings today invite us to ponder the theme of abundance. We can safely presume that all people aspire for some sort of abundance. But how do we properly direct this natural inclination? How can we keep our hearts in check so that we do not go overboard or become too self-centered? In today’s Liturgy the Church provides us with wisdom, to guide toward the path of virtue all our natural cravings for abundance.
The first reading promises abundance in its wonderful description of the feast that the Lord will provide: “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” When the prophet Isaiah wrote this, the Northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians. Driven from their homes and land, they are broken, defeated, and impoverished. Yet Isaiah prophesies a future of abundance, a time when the Lord of hosts will win a decisive victory over evil. “The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face.” Thus, a first point of our reflections on abundance is that it comes from the Lord; it flows from the Lord’s own victory over sin and death.
As Christians we know that the Lord’s promised ultimate victory over sin and death comes through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. His path, the way of the Cross, reveals to us that abundance does not mean an absence of suffering or failures but rather a flourishing despite such sufferings. St. Paul knew the “secret” of the Cross. In today’s selection from his Letter to the Philippians, he shows that he has learned to cope with life’s ups and downs and has come to grow and thrive through them. He says, “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” Paul shows us a path to an abundance that remains even when the world’s abundance is absent. It is an abundance of peace and joy. He confidently proclaims: “God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Thus, a second point to ponder is how to draw abundance from Christ’s victory and apply it to whatever situation we are in.
Suffering and failure are not the only difficulties we face in life; we must also face dangers and enemies. Today’s Psalm reminds us that the source of our abundance in such circumstances is the Lord, our Good Shepherd. The Psalmist proclaims that this Lord who is a Shepherd “guides me in right paths / for his name’s sake. / Even though I walk in the dark valley / I fear no evil; for you are at my side / with your rod and your staff / that give me courage.” In other words, we can rely on the Lord to fight our enemies and to protect us. This is a third point on the theme of abundance: its Source is our Lord and Shepherd, the One “who spread[s] the table before me in the sight of my foes,” who lavishes us with such abundance that our enemy does not even come close.
The Lord who spreads the table before us in the sight of our foes gives us another image in today’s Gospel. He likens his Kingdom to that of “a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” This parable offers a marvelous synthesis of Isaiah’s “feast of rich food and choice wines,” St. Paul’s learning the secret of abundance, and the Psalmist’s description of being lavishly shepherded and protected by the Lord himself. Jesus, however, focuses on the invitation. Yes, the choice foods are still there, the “calves and fattened cattle,” but there is a special emphasis on the invitation of the king – and on how people respond. This is a fourth point that we can ponder on abundance: that if we want to enjoy abundance from the Lord, we must recognize his invitation and properly respond to it. The Gospel describes this invitation in the most generous terms: “Go out … into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” It is extended to everyone, “bad and good alike”!
The generous invitation deserves a prompt and generous response. To ignore it, or to keep busy doing something else, or to mistreat its messengers, may lead not to abundance but to destruction and ruin. And if we claim to be able to enter the banquet on our own terms, it is like attending a wedding without respecting proper decorum. It is unacceptable to simply walk into a wedding banquet without wearing a wedding garment. The “wedding garment” here represents our being clothed with grace in the Sacrament of Baptism. All the baptized are freely given this garment. The decorum expected of us is that we will conduct our lives as children of God, redeemed by Christ. If we live as if we are not children of God but of the world, or worse, of the enemy, the Gospel warns that we can be cast into the darkness outside – a consequence that is not what God wants for us but is the natural and terrible result of our own sinful choices.
The Responsorial Psalm speaks of our desire for abundance as a longing for a secure dwelling place: “I shall live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.” We are created with a longing for Heaven. As we journey through the “dark valley” of this world, which can be erratic, disappointing, and sometimes even hostile, we carry in our hearts a seed of eternity. How can we gain access to our eternal dwelling place even now? We rely on the virtue of hope, as we are reminded by today’s Gospel Acclamation: “May the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.” This call, this divine invitation, is to draw toward the Source of abundance who has won victory over sin and death. We can claim this abundance during our pilgrimage through this valley of tears peppered with sufferings and dangers by responding to the Lord’s magnanimous and generous invitation for us to partake of the heavenly banquet, abundant with choice food and wine.
Being grateful for the abundance of God, why do I forget to thank him? How is Christ’s victory over sin and death a source of abundance for me? How is God calling me to abundance even now?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 7. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.