Taste for God

(Homily for Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

Once when I went up to my brother’s place, I bought a pint of oysters. I am not much of a cook, but I do know how to bread and fry oysters. It turned out there were a number of relatives, so I figured we would each get only two or three. But when I started frying the oysters, I discovered that only my brother, sister, niece and I like them. The in-laws could hardly stand to look at the squishy shellfish. Of course, we did not mind – all the more for us. And their distaste for oysters was not their fault. Where they were reared, they never developed that taste. They looked at the little mollusks they way most Americans look at snails: Let the French eat them, but don't ask me to try one.* Anyway, as we savored the fried oysters, we did feel a bit sorry for our in-laws. They were missing one of the truly great pleasures of life.

Now, I am not trying to promote Puget Sound shellfish. Tastes differ and many factors go into what people enjoy eating. If a person finds no joy in oysters, they probably have some other delicacy which they equate with perfect happiness. However, there is one taste which all of us must acquire. If we do not develop it, it will be a true tragedy. To speak frankly, it is the only taste which ultimately matters. I am talking about the taste for God.

Today’s readings tell about the hunger for heaven. Isaiah describes a banquet of “juicy, rich food and pure choice wine.” God, as he says, will provide it “for all people.” In the Gospel, Jesus tells of a king who prepares a wedding feast for his son. This is the same feast which John describes at the conclusion of his Apocalypse. (19:7) The Lamb (Jesus) will take his bride (the Church) amid ecstatic cheers. It will be an unparalleled banquet – and the food will never run out, no matter how often we return to the table.

In the midst of this happiness, Jesus introduces a somber note. He is a realist. He knows that some, of their own accord, will refuse to enter. The parable does not tell us why they make that choice. We are left to wonder. Do they harbor some resentment against the king? Do they consider themselves superior to the other wedding guests? Do they feel they have better, more important things to do? Is it the food itself which does not appeal to them? We do not know. The horrible thing is that, by some process, they have built up a series of tastes which cannot be satisfied at that wedding feast. And they have failed to develop the one taste which matters – the taste for God.

This scene reminds me of the Shakespeare play, The Twelfth Night. After a series of intricate twists and misunderstandings, the comedy concludes with a general reconciliation. Naturally enough, it happens as the principal characters announce their marriage. Each one recognizes his own errors and seeks pardon from those he (or she) offended. Everyone wants reconciliation except for one character: the prig Malvolio refuses the olive branch which his adversaries offer him. He claims that no man has been so “notoriously abused” as he. His last, bitter words are: “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” It is possible to stay outside.** As Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “It is indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost.”

Today’s parable should make us reflect on the tastes we are developing. It matters little whether we have a preference for oysters or any other food. But it will make a huge difference if we become attracted to revenge – or put downs – or pornography. And behind all these choices is something we cannot escape. At every moment we are either drawing near to God or pulling away from him. We can put the question this way: Am I acquiring a taste for God?

**********

*When I was a student in Europe many years ago, I did have the opportunity to try snails. They are delicious.

**In The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis explored that terrifying possibility. He imagines what would happen if the souls in hell had a chance to enter heaven. At one point he encounters his “Teacher” - George MacDonald - who, like Dante's Vigil, helps him understand how a human could make a choice for misery:

“Milton was right,” said my Teacher. “The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words ‘better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy – that is, to reality. Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends. Ye call it the Sulks. But in adult life it has a hundred fine names – Achilles’ wrath and Coriolanus’ grandeur, Revenge and Injured Merit and Self-Respect and Tragic Greatness and Proper Pride.”

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-eighth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Trust No Matter What Week 3
2011: For Many
2005: Taste for God
2002: Reverence During Mass
1999: Why Some Do Not Enter

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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