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Entering the Banquet

An amazing sporting event happened in the summer of 1984 - the first women's Olympic marathon. For a long time, I thought that the scene of Joan Benoit entering the Los Angeles Coliseum might be a taste of what it would be like to enter heaven. All of the angels and saints rejoice that we made it, just like the crowd roaring as Ms. Benoit emerged from the tunnel onto the track. In Sunday's (September 11, 2022) Gospel reading, this crowd in the L.A. Coliseum is like all the people who celebrate with the shepherd who found his sheep, the woman who found her coin, and the father who welcomed his son home. And perhaps each of us is that lost sheep, that lost coin, or that lost son or daughter, entering the Coliseum.

Reflect on this first, and then go watch the video:

I thought I liked this analogy until today. After reflecting on Sunday's Gospel, this analogy, like most analogies, breaks down - here are just three ways:

1. There is no first and last, winner and loser, when entering heaven. It doesn't matter when someone gets there, they just have to finish. All rejoice in heaven. Notice how the crowd stood and cheered for one woman (Gabriela Andersen-Scheiss) - for just finishing the race (it is a painful 5 minutes, 500 meters to watch):

2. We do not rely solely on our own efforts to get to heaven. We do not decide to find God, take ourselves to some starting line, and run without assistance to a finish. Instead, Jesus seeks us out, finds us where we are, and brings us home. He throws the banquet, brings us to it, and invites everyone in. That is why Jesus was sent into this world (John 3:16-17). This is the mistake the Pharisees made, to whom Jesus is directing these parables.

3. We do not receive a medal or other material reward by entering heaven, but we enter into a relationship. God doesn't tell us that we performed well enough to be worthy of Him. Instead, He loves us, and seeks us out to bring us back into a relationship with Him, to share in His blessed life. Consistently, throughout Scripture, this relationship is described as a marriage, for which there is a banquet - the wedding feast of the lamb (Revelation 19:9).

Now, bringing this back to the purpose of Saturday Works, how does all this relate to how we can encounter Jesus in serving our neighbors? Consider these challenge questions for the week:

Reflecting on a past experience, can you recognize times that Jesus was searching for you, bringing you home?

Can you remember a time when you felt called to be merciful to your neighbor? In that event, can you recognize Jesus calling you, like a shepherd calling a lost sheep?

Can you remember a time when you chose to love your neighbor where it was difficult to? In that event, can you recognize Jesus running to you, like a father running to greet his prodigal son?

When you next go to Mass, can you imagine Jesus walking in with you, his arm around you, and all the angels and saints there (they are - read Revelation 5 and 19) - cheering as you enter?

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