A parable of the Lord Jesus is speaking to me strongly these days; I’d like to share it with you. I’ll divide the parable into three parts – three “phases” – into which these last days, maybe, are divided. His parable concerns a “great banquet” that God chose to provide and offer to His own: a holy banquet is being offered in our time by His holy Church. His parable includes the responses of those invited, those who were too busy to receive what He offered and intended. The parable then also includes His own response: His intent and response to us all.
The Parable of the great banquet, Luke 14:15-24:
Lk 14:15 When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
Phase I: Popes Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Lk 14:16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many;
Lk 14:17 and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’
Popes Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI saw to it that the table is set well, very well! The Church of the Lord Jesus has before it a banquet feast: Holy Scripture opened and made accessible by many saints and scholars, the feast of the Word is in place. A new Catechism is prepared and available to all the people – a wonderful resource for substantive adult formation in the Faith of the Church. The Sacraments communicating the holy and divine grace of God are ready, with the clergy of the Church ready to distribute as needed or desired; mature and prudent moral teachings are well-developed to guide the people along as the secular world grows darker; the life of prayer also is now well-developed and understood, inviting the people of God to come, to enter into holy prayer-communion with Him, to experience the life of Christ from within their own souls.
But what has happened? The table is set, the people are invited! What has happened? What has happened is busyness and preoccupation among the people of God with the things, the loves, and the cares of the world.
Lk 14:18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’
Lk 14:19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’
Lk 14:20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
Lk 14:21a So the servant came and reported this to his master.
Phase II: Enter Pope Francis.
Lk 14:21b Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’
Lk 14:22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
A different man is now servant of the Lord in His Church, a different pope, Pope Francis. Pope Francis hears the new word of the Master, to awaken the Church to the cries of the poor among us and all around us: the materially poor and the spiritually poor, the many who are owed the good news and the divine blessings of the Gospel. These, especially in this time, are to be brought in. These, especially, are to be called into the blessings of the banquet. These are the special concern of this pope – all those marginalized, the poor in any way, those who have found no place in the Church, at the banquet. These are to be called.
Those invited in the first call did not value what the Master had set out for them! They did not know their own poverty, or rightly discern their own famished and starved condition. They lusted for bright shiny glitter – they stepped over, and trampled upon, true pearls of great value.
God began warning our popes many times, over many years.
Blessed Pope Paul VI’s ‘Smoke of Satan’ homily of June 29, 1972 has received several interpretations of meaning, but the words themselves, as quoted, are startling: “From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.” Those were crazy days, in the secular world and in the Church. The “silly sixties and seventies” exploded with drugs, sex and rock and roll in the secular world; shallow innovations and experiments replaced tradition, prudence and even sanity in the Church. Those were “smoky” and spiritually impoverished days.
Pope St. John Paul II was allowed to raise to sainthood a fellow child of Poland, now St. Faustina, and was called with her to recognize the danger and darkness of days ahead. John Paul II repeated, time and time again to persons and groups around the world, “Be not afraid!” – he saw, I believe, darkness coming. John Paul II also realized deeply, along with St. Faustina, the need in such a time for God’s mercy. In her Diary, St. Faustina wrote of a vision she had of Mary the Mother of God (#635 in her Diary, subtitled Divine Mercy in my Soul):
635. March 25 … I saw the Mother of God who said to me:
“Oh, how pleasing is the soul that follows faithfully the inspirations of His grace! I gave the Savior to the world; as for you, you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a merciful Savior but as a just Judge. Oh how terrible is that day! Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still time for granting mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day. Fear nothing. Be faithful to the end. I sympathize with you.”
Pope Francis also was given this sense of need, among the people of God, to know of God’s mercy. Now we are in a “Year of Mercy” which he instituted for the universal Church. He has called us to open the doors of God’s blessings and grace to those so profoundly in need of it – that we not be like guards keeping people from God’s grace, but like ministers helping them receive it. The poor and maimed and blind and lame, in other words, are called to come and sit down at His banquet.
Will the Church do this? Will we seek out and welcome the estranged, the marginalized, the not-welcomed? Will we gather them to the Lord’s feast, and share with them His treasure? Even that, the parable notes, will not exhaust the bounty or the love of God for His creation. We read:
Lk 14:23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.
Lk 14:24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
The time of “compelling” – “compel people to come in” – remains in the future in this interpretation of the parable; what such “compelling” means also remains in the future! How could persons be “compelled” to enter Faith, to enter His Church in sincerity, to come and be seated at the banquet table of His Word and His Altar, to receive His grace and His life?
The word “compel” in Lk 14:23 is the Greek anagkazo – to compel, constrain. A related word in Greek is anagke – constraint. Such compelling could be either exterior or interior, from outside the person or within the person himself.
An example of an external constraint is:
Mt 14:22 Then he [Jesus] constrained the disciples to get into the boat …
An example of an interior constraint is:
1 Cor 9:16 If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for constraint has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!
In any event, if we are reading the parable rightly, our time is now, and it is a time of mercy. Pope Francis has taken this burden upon himself, as a focus of his papacy, that we be truly a Church of God’s mercy. There is no doubt that Pope Francis has touched upon a truth hard for many in the Church to hear in this time: we have not cared enough, we have not cared as we should, we have not reached out as we should, to those most in need of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for His patience with us! May we hear, in our time, the word of the Lord to his churches. May we become, in ways that the lost of this world may recognize, a people of mercy worthy of our merciful God.
Luke 6:36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.