Jesus enjoyed going to dinner parties. He never turned down an invitation, even when it meant dining with hypocritical scholars of the law and Pharisees, which is where today's Gospel reading took place. Parties gave him an opportunity to mingle, and when he mingled, he ministered. Here, he used the occasion to teach the importance of accepting every invitation that comes to us from God.
Perhaps someone has invited you to get up a little earlier and go to daily Mass; this is God hoping that you'll come to his breakfast banquet. Or maybe your priest has sent out a general invitation to a special church event. Or have you been asked to teach children or sing in the choir? Some of my readers have been invited to the priesthood or a religious order. What have you done with God's invitation?
Not all invitations are from God. How do we know which invitations to accept? In my own life, I find it helpful to ask the Holy Spirit to increase in me the desire to do what he's inviting me to do and to decrease all other desires. Then I wait to see what happens.
For example, if there's a choice of two activities on the same weekend, should I do both? God wants me to spend some of the time resting in his lap. Therefore, I will choose only one, but which one? I pray: "Lord, whichever of these two opportunities is your will, increase my desire and energy for doing it and make me feel lethargic and uneasy about the other. And if both are pleasing to you, help me to make the best decision for this weekend."
Then, I trust how my feelings change, and I also trust that if I misinterpret God, he'll turn it all into good, because my motives were right: I did want to do his will.
Discernment only works if we surrender our will and ideas to God, giving him permission to change us, and listening quietly to the Holy Spirit's nudgings deep within us. There are no good excuses for saying no to God.
It's an odd thing about the kingdom of God: The way we get into the party is not as a special guest who should be entertained, but by becoming like Jesus our Host, who, as we see in today's first reading, "emptied himself and took the form of a servant." This is why many turn away from God's invitations.
Every invitation to God's party looks like a job -- a service -- of some sort, and it will often seem difficult and unpleasant. "Dear friend," the invitation card reads, "please join me in the celebration I've planned. It's a pot-luck supper, so bring something to share."
Ugh. I was hoping this would be a catered affair.
But you know what? Once we get into the task that God's invited us to do, we discover it comes with many blessings. We come alive with personal satisfaction and renewed energy, because we're doing it with Jesus.