28th Sunday of the Year (a) 2017
The first reading and the psalm are often chosen for funerals, and you can see why. They offer a message of hope; ‘on this mountain, says Isaiah, God will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, he will destroy death forever”. These are comforting words. The psalm is the most popular one to be chosen at funerals, and again you can see why: ‘The Lord is my shepherd… If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear… In the Lord’s own house will I dwell for ever and ever’. Again, words of reassurance. At a time when someone dies you need reassuring; you need to be given hope.
I’ll be going next week to a funeral of a priest I played golf with for the last three years. He died suddenly and without warning. He was only 67; that’s my age! And another priest I played golf with had a heart attack, and will be out for several months. I heard the bishop is thinking of banning golf; his priests are to play tiddlywinks instead! Fr Kevin Lowry was a likeable man; I always looked forward to playing golf with him. We would get their early and have coffee and a chat together; he was a great one to share with because he was a good listener. He died too quickly to think back over his life. I wonder what he would have thought as he looked back over the years. Would he have been anxious to meet his maker? Many people are. Today’s gospel is one to reassure; Christ tells us that no matter who we are or what a mess we have made of our lives we are all invited to his banquet.
Some people, often through no fault of their own, lead bad lives. You won’t see them in church. You will see them in the pubs and clubs around the country. Some you will see in prison; locked up for crimes they’ve committed. And the world will look down on them and say, “they’re a bad lot”. And some are, but not all of them. However, notice the thread of the parable about the Kingdom of heaven, and how those invited didn’t go. That meant there was plenty of room for others. But who were those others? They weren’t who you would expect them to be, at least not all of them. ‘So the servants went out on to the roads, Jesus tells us, and collected together everyone they could find, bad and good alike’. Notice those last words, ‘bad and good alike’. So in heaven there will be people you expect to be there and people you don’t. Of course we can all ask the question if we are brave enough: will I go to heaven?
The gospel gives us hope because it speaks yet again of God’s mercy. The last four or five sundays have been dedicated to this theme: the mercy of God. You’d think we’d have understood it by now. Christ had a good understanding of human nature and could see that we all needed encouragement. All of us do bad things in life and sometimes very bad things. Are these sins going to keep us out of heaven? Not according to the gospel. The mercy of God is wonderful; it extends to everyone. And yet it is hard to believe. If it were easy why is the Church repeating this theme of God’s mercy Sunday after Sunday. I think it is a truism that we human beings find it much easier to believe in justice than in mercy. Justice makes sense: you do wrong and depending on the degree of wrongness you kept punished accordingly; those who have committed minor sins will be punished but not harshly, whereas those who have committed mortal sins will be punished severely. This makes sense to us, and it is easy to understand. It is also measurable. Whereas mercy you can’t measure. It’s not quite mysterious but it doesn’t always makes sense to the logical mind. But God is a God of mercy; He is God because He is merciful: love and mercy defines God. And so when we look back over our lives we may well wince at the the memory of some of the things we did, but the gospel is telling us not to have any fear or anxiety. I hope I remember that when it comes to my turn.