In the first part of the gospel story we heard last Sunday from the gospel of St. Matthew, 22:1-10, Jesus tells the story of a great king who invited people to his son’s wedding feast, but they refused to come. Since he had already prepared the feast, he sent his servants out to invite anyone they saw on the highways and byways, “the good and the bad alike” until he filled his banquet hall. The banquet to which all people are invited is life everlasting. It is an invitation to the kingdom of God. All are invited … look around you wherever you are ... all are invited. Look at the world ... all are invited. Are there some people that you would rather not have show up? All have been invited. This is what the generosity of God looks like.
But then the story goes on in a disturbing way. In verses 11-14, one man is seen without a wedding garment and is cast out. Why is one person pointed at and dismissed for not wearing a wedding garment. I take it to mean that it is a garment of the heart, a heart totally committed to Christ. As I began to prepare for my sermon to the sisters on this reading, I ran across a story that I did not like at first. It is not a very soft, compassionate story, which is why I didn’t like it. But it does have some of the elements contained in the gospel story. Although it is known as a Zen story, the source is unknown. In the version often found online, the story goes like this:
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God (or enlightenment in the Zen tradition).”
The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under the water.”
“Air!” answered the man.
“Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”
So it’s an awful story — right? But just as in the story about the banquet, the bottom line is that we want God, and we want God more than we want anything else. Think about your desire for God right now. In this time of pandemic, are we thinking more about the pandemic than we are thinking about God? When someone offends us, do we think more about our hurt and our preoccupation with that person than we think about our desire for God? When we are sick and tired of being in lockdown or even just restricted in our movements, do we want our freedom more than we want God?
There is a bigger element to this. It isn’t about just wanting God during difficult times, not just about wanting God more than anything else for the time being. It’s about wanting God each and every day of our life. Each day, day after day, day in and day out for 40 years, 60, maybe like some of our sisters even 100 years … every day of our life, wanting God above everything else.