This week our readings invite us to consider God’s offer of grace and freedom that each person has to refuse such grace. The opening reading describes the “mountain of the Lord” through which we are invited to think of a place of “closeness to God”: if God is present “in the heavens” then a mountain, which is a high place close to the heavens, is a symbol of being close to God. On this mountain we are completely satisfied and the “veil” is removed, allowing us to see God face-to-face. Here our suffering is removed and our tears are wiped away.
In like manner, Jesus describes this “kingdom of heaven” as being like a rich wedding banquet. Weddings are also a potent symbol in the scriptures because we are invited into a relationship with God that mirrors, and even exceeds, the union that exists within a marriage. However, we also see that although grace is freely offered to all people, not all except the offer. The refusal of grace is the great tragedy of humanity. It is an effect of the wound left on our souls by original sin, which creates within us a tendency toward selfishness, isolation, completion, and distrust. The offer and refusal of grace shows the true nature of heaven and hell. We begin to realize that heaven is not so much the reward for good behavior and hell the punishment for bad behavior – realities imposed upon us against our will. Rather, heaven or hell are the effect of our free choice to accept or reject friendship with God. It is not God who excludes us, but we who exclude ourselves. Perhaps another image captures this dynamic: Imagine a child’s birthday party in which one of the children becomes upset and goes over to the corner to sulk. One of the adults present goes over to the child and invites them to come back to the party but the child refuses. This sort of thing happens all the time. We find ourselves in a jealous or distrustful or fearful of others and we sever our relationship. It’s true that all relationships require appropriate boundaries and some become quite unhealthy, requiring separation. But that is something different – the other person separating themselves.
There are times when we are fearful of prayer or the sacrament of confession because we fear God’s judgement. But the reality is that God already knows our weaknesses and he still invites us to be close – not because we are perfect, but because he is perfect. God’s grace is always on offer; it is our choice to accept.
Our Lady of the Presentation Parish