Maryknoll Father Michael Snyder reflects on this week's readings in light of his mission experience in Tanzania.
Our Gospel today ends with these words: “Many are called but few are chosen.” In the earliest days of the Church the disciples believed only Jews were called to be Christians. However, they soon came to realize that all people throughout the world are called to be followers of Jesus. And with that the community of believers spread, and today they number more than two billion.
I have served as a missionary priest in Tanzania, East Africa, and have been privileged to baptize and welcome so many into the Church. As I found that many among them eventually fell away, I would ask myself and them why. They would respond that, in facing the many challenges posed in life, they found it just too difficult. In the rural areas where I lived the rains could be spotty, causing droughts followed by hunger and disease. In the urban areas, finding an economic livelihood sufficient to support and raise a family was a major challenge for so many.
As Christians, we believe in a God who never abandons us, despite life’s difficulties. In today’s first reading, we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah preaching to the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity, telling them they may be discouraged, but should never lose heart that God was incaptivity with them and would never leave them: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth… This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Such words of hope were not lost on St. Paul: “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
Paul was aware of his strengths. He was also aware of his shortcomings. He had originally persecuted Christians. This great man, the Apostle to the nations, has given us an example to follow in the Christian life. A dynamic and courageous speaker, he also had a temper. So much so that eventually St. Barnabas parted ways with him. He acknowledged these flaws on many occasions, as in today’s reading, but he never lost heart. He experienced deeply God’s forgiveness, and this enabled him to forge forward as a messenger of God’s love, compassion and mercy for all. He is truly a model to be followed!
Today’s Gospel offers us a comparison of the kingdom of heaven to a king preparing a marriage feast for his son. We hear how the invited guests would not come and how they ill-treated the king’s messengers. Finally, the king welcomes everyone in the area to come to the feast, and they do. But there is that one man who did not dress properly for the feast, and the king has him thrown out. Jesus told this story for our benefit: “For many are called but few are chosen.”
All people are called to God’s feast, the kingdom of heaven. We are invited to spend our lives responding to that call. The challenges are many, as they were for the people I served in Tanzania. Each of us in our own lives face so many challenges. We can be discouraged at times. We are tempted to lose heart and, if we feel we are alone, then we will indeed lose heart. But God assures us otherwise; God will never leave us alone. While I have seen many lose heart, I have also witnessed the testimony of so many other believers in Tanzania who remained strong in faith and hope despite the severe trials and tribulations. Their testimony has strengthened my faith and my hope.
The challenges never end. Today they lie with the Covid-19 pandemic. In the future there will be more challenges. The question is always posed to us: will we lose heart?
Whenever the challenges seem too great we must listen to Isaiah’s prophecy of a future of hope and be strengthened by the life of St. Paul: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”