What does heaven look like? Jesus never gives a direct answer. Instead, he compares it to something earthy, something real, as he does in today’s gospel. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” And Jesus continues his parable. All have been invited. But, strangely, some respond with indifference, others seem to resent the intrusion of the invitation, and even respond with hostility and violence. Sadly, tragically, in rejecting the royal invitation, they have rejected the king and his son.
Nevertheless, the king does not give up. Why? Because as Isaiah tells us in the first reading, God generously wants all to share in his eternal banquet. And so, Jesus continues with the parable about the kingdom. Off go the servants, to the highways and byways “and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.”
Even so, like some in the parable, there may be times when we refuse the royal invitation to the banquet. Why? Because we are too wrapped up, consumed by our consumerism and the need to accumulate material goods. We may be distracted by our busyness, our wariness. We may be indifferent to matters of the soul, of the ultimate purpose of our existence of who we are – abiding in God – we lose sight of what is eternal.
How have we responded to God’s invitation to the banquet – the Eucharistic banquet of bread and wine, of celebration and community? That is the challenge Jesus repeatedly gives us. That is what Jesus preached throughout his earthly ministry; that is the good news. “Get ready! The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
What does heaven look like? The closest we can get at an answer is this: The kingdom is here among us, but not yet. It is somehow earthy, but not quite. And when we accept the royal invitation, when we gather at the table of the Lord, we will catch a glimpse of the kingdom. We will experience a foretaste of the royal celebration, the Messianic banquet in the Kingdom. It is around the table of the Lord, in community, that we will find our deepest identity, of who we truly are. The kingdom of God looks like that.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.