The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The joy of the banquet


On this Day of the Resurrection, we recall the overwhelming, unmerited, totally gratuitous, and life-changing gift of grace that God is always extending to us. This is the central theme of Scripture and our faith tradition: God offers us an eternal share in the divine life—beginning right now. Out of love, God desires to lavish us with his goodness, imploring: “Come to the feast” (Matthew 22:4).
However, we often refuse the invitation. Throughout most of history, human beings (particularly in the West) have clung to the notion that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” We don’t understand unmerited, totally gratuitous grace (or any gift that meets such criteria, it seems). We fear what we think it may demand of us. Sure, the “meal” may be great, but when the bill arrives – look out! Perhaps that’s why we so often hesitate or refuse God’s perpetual invitation of grace.
We are much more comfortable with paying the price of admission, earning our keep, or climbing the ladder of success (even if it means stepping over—or on—others in the process). We don’t know how to accept a free gift. We’d rather earn it—or repay it with an even greater gift, so we can come out on top in the equation. That, we understand. We need to be worthy, and if we can’t, then at least we’re not going to be outdone.
But when it comes to our relationship with God, the fact is that we are outdone—and always will be. We can never “measure up” or achieve God’s favor. And the good news is that we don’t have to! God still says, “Come to the feast.” No payment is required; none will be accepted. The only thing we need to do is recognize and accept God’s invitation, and then enjoy the banquet of grace. In such a state of communion, only then will we be impelled to extend God’s graciousness to others through good works—not as repayment, but as a humble gesture of gratitude and the desire to share our joy with others who have not yet tasted and seen that the Lord is good (cf. Psalm 34:8). Grace is a gift to be given away—only to be replenished in even greater measure.
This theme of grace is woven throughout the entire Bible. For example, it is signified by the manna God rained down on the ancient Israelites in the desert despite their grumpy waywardness (as told in the Book of Exodus). Later, the True Bread from Heaven (cf. John 6:32) shared common meals with a multitude of people—particularly those labeled as being unworthy sinners and outcasts. Then, at the Last Supper, he gathered his still uncomprehending and imperfect disciples, took the bread and wine, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with them, saying “Do this in remembrance of me” (cf. Luke 22:14-20).
Finally, as a profound exclamation point, this Jesus, who so often spoke of festive banquets as a symbol for the Kingdom of God, offered his life to the Father on the cross to demonstrate the gratuitous nature of the eternal banquet. He paid the price, once for all, to open the door of the banquet hall—not after we demonstrate that we are good enough to enter, but while we are still sinners (cf. Romans 5:8). As Richard Rohr has written, “God does not love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good.”
Perfection is not required—only humility and faith. And this applies today—not merely in some distant time and place. Today God “prepares a banquet” for us (cf. Isaiah 49:8; 2Cor. 6:2; Psalm 23:5), holding out to us more abundance than we can possibly imagine. God is merciful, compassionate, loving, faithful, and gracious. He loves to throw a party and wants us all there—now and forever. And he spares no expense: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:1-2).
Let us not fear the invitation, be distracted from it, ignore it, or misinterpret the entire message as another method of calculating payment. Let us recall that three days after he died on the cross, the single grain of wheat planted in the tomb rose as the Bread of Life and fills our nostrils with the delightful scent of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 20:22).
The joy of the banquet is ours (cf. John 15:11). All we must do is accept it and choose to be transformed by the Risen Life of Christ. All are welcome. Admission is free. Taste and see. The Lord is good.

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