This is occurring on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the day our Lord “rested” in the tomb, not lying dormant but working: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Because of our Lord’s Passion and “rest,” the result is the Resurrection, and an abundance of fruit is produced. The healing of the man with dropsy is a picture of us being healed in Baptism. Then our Lord relates a parable of a wedding feast, telling us to take the lowest place, the place of the slave. He then tells the man who had invited Him that, when he has a feast, he should invite the lowest, those that cannot repay him. Jesus is the Head, and we are the lowest that cannot repay.
Now we come to today’s passage, which begins: “One of those at table with Jesus said to him…” This is a rendering from the NAB which, from what I understand is a paraphrase. This means, for example, that the name, Jesus, is not in the original manuscript, however the editor’s put “Jesus” in for clarification. What, historically, is occurring: Jesus is illustrating the rejection by Israel to share in the banquet in the Kingdom and the extension of the invitation to the Jews who saw the need of salvation and to the Gentiles. However, his is this going to benefit you and I today. We already believe that Israel rejected Christ and His invitation was offered to the Gentiles. How is this, then, important and beneficial to me?
I go to the RSV, and I read, “When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him…” Because of the pronouns, “he” and “him,” I change the characters around a little. Let me explain.
When one of those who sat at table with him (Jesus) heard (understood) this—which is me, as a result of Baptism and the Eucharist—he (Jesus) said to him (me), “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Jesus is telling me that I am blessed because of the Eucharist. The kingdom of God is the Catholic Church. However, Jesus continues, “But…” Now Jesus is warning me to be watchful and pray that I don’t expel myself from the Kingdom, in the way that Israel did.
St. Augustine tells us: “Now there were three excuses, of which it is added, The first said to him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it. The bought piece of ground denotes government”—perhaps, for us, “authority” might be a better word. “Therefore pride is the first vice reproved. For the first man wished to rule, not willing to have a master.” I hear Jesus asking me, “Do you want to be the authority, or do you want Me to be the authority? Do you want to say what I mean, or do you want to listen to Me through My Church?”
St. Gregory says that “by the piece of ground is meant worldly substance; therefore he goes out to see it who thinks only of outward things for the sake of his living.” St. Ambrose cautions: “Thus it is that the worn out soldier is appointed to serve degraded offices, as he who intent upon things below buys for himself earthly possessions cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. Our Lord says, Sell all that you have, and follow me.” Hence, Jesus cautions, “Do you want to possess things of the world or heavenly things? You cannot possess both.”
For the oxen till the ground, but men at a distance from faith, [who are] given up to earthly things, refuse to believe in anything but [that] they arrive at by means of the five-fold senses of the body. ‘I believe nothing but what I see.’ If such were our thoughts, we should be hindered from the supper by those five yoke of oxen. But that you may understand that it is not the delight of the five senses which charms and conveys pleasure but that a certain curiosity is denoted, he says not, I have bought five yoke of oxen and go to feed them, but to go prove them.” I take it that, by “oxen,” St. Augustine is referring to the priests and religious of the Catholic Church.
The third excuse is: “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” Saint Gregory admonishes us: “Although marriage is good and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring but the lust of pleasure, and so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented.” St. Ambrose says, “Marriage is not blamed, but purity is held up to greater honor since the unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord that she may be holy in body and spirit but she that is married cares for the things of the world.” I think we see what the saints are referring to: When people marry only based upon outward appearances and emotions, it is based upon lust, and that marriage usually fails. Marriages based upon lust can contribute to keeping us out of the Kingdom.
St. Augustine goes on to teach us: “Now John, which he said all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, began from the point where the Gospel ended. The lust of the flesh, ‘I have married a wife;’ the lust of the eyes, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen;’ the pride of life, ‘I have bought a farm.’ But proceeding from a part to the whole, the five senses have been spoken of under the eyes alone, which hold the chief place among the five senses. Because though, properly, the sight belongs to the eyes, we are in the habit of ascribing the act of seeing to all the five senses.”
The early Church father, Origen, gives us a mystical interpretation: “They who have bought a piece of ground and reject or refuse the supper are they who have taken other doctrines of divinity but have despised the word which they possessed. But he who has bought five yoke of oxen is he who neglects his intellectual nature and follows the things of sense; therefore, he cannot comprehend a spiritual nature. But he who has married a wife is he who is joined to the flesh, a lover of pleasure rather than of God.”
If we reject the teachings of Christ and His Church, our places will be given to another who is more fitting. We will be fitting if we “see” what St. Paul and the psalmist are telling us:
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” Psalm 131:1–3 (RSVCE)
This theological reflection courtesy of the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: stpaulcatholic.net