Today’s scriptures are especially rich. They speak of a life spent in community and the fullness that comes to us through a healthy community and the relationships that follow.
Community is a challenge today. It is hard to find an integrated whole, as we have various circles of friendship and function. Our family, our work, our neighborhood, and our church include different groups of people, which often do not overlap. We do not even know some groups, as we drive home into our automatic garages and enter our walled-off backyards or disappear into our living rooms to watch television. These disconnections make it hard to understand and experience our place as part of a larger whole.
Work may also seem disassociated from a broader purpose. Modern industrial approaches built upon specialization may be extracting higher material values from labor, but the worker may feel a lack of connection to the finished product or process. Saint Paul’s advice may help us with these concerns, as he encourages us to be part of the community by focusing on whatever it is that we do well. If we exercise our gifts within the context of community – even gifts that may seem narrow or unimportant – we can trust God that they will be helpful and sufficient for His purposes.
The Psalmist focuses on contentment, which is also a challenge for us. Having five children, I know that my sweet wife has nursed all of them. That activity comforted a crying child on many occasions. When we are nursing children, life is all about having our own needs met. I hear this on a different scale outside my window, as weaned calves are bawling and their mothers are mooing back to them. Like children, those calves do not yet know the contentment of being still and enjoying mature food.
The invited guests in today’s Gospel seem somewhat like the unweaned child, in that their own agendas are keeping them from the contentment and joy that will undoubtedly come from the banquet. At one level, it seems easy to read this story and to say, you are being so foolish! You are missing the party! Can your excuses be more important than being part of the community of celebration? Don’t you realize how offensive this must be to the Master of the feast?
Coming from a rural farming community, I can also see earnestness in their excuses, which are all rooted in a desire to do well in their work. When work is important to us, it is easy to convince ourselves that we won’t really be missed if we don’t come. And after all, the result of that work may seem more enduring than a night of celebration, which seems rather frivolous and ephemeral.
But we need to remember the sensibilities of the Master of the
feast and the value of sharing our lives with others. He desires
our presence, and he may also see through the excuses we give, which
ultimately do not measure up to the value of being there. Even if
we don’t much feel like going, sometimes just being there
brings us into the celebrating mood. And we can all remember experiences
where coming meant so much to the host, or to someone there who
was glad to see us.
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