Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday of the Forefathers

Colossians 3:4-11 / Luke 14:16-24

Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.

There has been of late on the blogosphere a recent revival of the question of the population of Hell. While the question about the number of those in Hell, at least in general, whether it will be great or small, more or less than the elect, is an ancient one, the latest back and forth seems to have been prompted by the publication this fall of professor of systematic theology Ralph Martin's Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization, as well as by the recent response to this work by the priest, blogger, and rector of Mundelein Seminary, Robert Barron. The dispute has its interest, it must be granted. Moreover, Martin might well be right, namely, that too great a confidence in the likely salvation of all, or at least most, may have dulled the more traditional evangelizing fervor of the Catholic Church. Likewise, Barron and others might be quite right that evangelical fervor does not require the fear of hellfire, and that, even if Martin were correct and Hell were heavily populated, the motives for bringing people to the faith ought to be animated far more by the positive love of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us than the negative aversion from what we dread.

Be that as it may, in the parable today we hear from Jesus, it is not the population of Hell, but rather the population of Heaven that is at stake. Even without those originally invited to the banquet, and even after the servants of the master have gone into the streets and lanes of the city and brought in the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind, the servants report to the master that still there is room. On hearing this, the master commands that they go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, but not that none might be excluded. Indeed, the master is quite clear that exclusion is real, a terrible consequence of seeking other goods rather than his bounty: For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper. However, the master's concern is not the logic of exclusion, nor even the logic of inclusion, if by that logic we are concerned with some feature of those included to account for their presence at the banquet. No, the master's central objective is the good of the banquet itself, that his house may be filled.

We can, all too readily, forget that the main point of everything, of all that is, and has been, and will be, is that God might be glorified in his works. This is not a case of divine megalomania. When we desire other people and other things to glorify us, we do so at their expense, by seeing these other things as having meaning only in ourselves. With God, things are different. To serve God, to glorify him, to praise and thank him through all that we are is, at one and the same time, to live out what is most fulfilling of ourselves and to exist to glorify God. In these end, these are convertible, one with the other; even if the glory of God should have priority, as it must, it never comes first at the expense of who we are. It is only our rebellion, our seeking out goods independent of him, as though there could be any such thing, that we undo ourselves, that we transform ourselves from the recipient of God's love and bounty to the object of his wrath, and so, by our turning away, transform ourselves into the very thing we meant to avoid. That is, in turning from God to other goods as a means of self-assertion, we find, in our exclusion from the banquet, that we have become precisely what we fear, namely, that we manifest God's glory not because of, but in spite of what we desire.

This, surely, is why we want to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that God will be glorified in his works. It can be no other way. There need be no doubt of the efficacy of our salvation in Jesus Christ. He has been at work from our first forefathers, Adam and Eve, and worked throughout all of history, including all those, from Adam through the Virgin, who were born before his most gracious coming. That God will be praised in his works, indeed has been praised beyond anything the world might give on its own, is more than amply shown in the forefathers. Yet, even now, even in the age of grace, God continues to glorify himself, he continues to send us out as his servants and messengers, going to the least likely places because in his house there is still room, and it is his will that his house be full.

Rather than debate the population of Hell, might we not be better suited to making ourselves more equipped to invite others to the banquet? Might we not rather seek to live out the new life we have in Jesus Christ with such joy and delight that others whom we meet will not hesitate to respond heartily and happily when they receive the invitation to dine with us?

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