It’s a good sign if the words of Scripture bring out all of our various feelings – excitement, consolation, holy fear, confusion, surprise and more. If we read or listen in complete comfort, we should wonder if we are really paying attention. St. John Henry Newman is one of our preeminent models in this regard because he read and preached the plain Word of God, and his sermons convey the thoughts of a man who is wading through each word carefully. How refreshing and eye-opening is this approach to God’s Word! In reading Newman, we learn to become sons and daughters of the Church, disciples humbly sitting at our Lord’s feet.
In “Acceptance of Religious Privileges Compulsory,” Newman examines a parable of Jesus that likely shocked His first-century audience as much as it does us. The parable comes from Luke 14:23: “And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” One of the guests who is compelled to come doesn’t have a wedding garment, and for that he is not only thrown out, but is punished, Newman notes. If we have been reading carefully, it would be appropriate to be upset about this situation. If the guest was required to come, why was he then kicked out and punished for coming? How unfair! Newman registers his shock: “Surely, there is something very awful and startling in the doctrine thus contained in the Parable. It would seem from thence that we are compelled to accept religious advantages, for the use of which we are answerable, for the misuse of which we shall be condemned. We are compelled to become Christians, yet this compulsion is not taken into account when the day of reckoning comes.”
In considering this doctrine, we may be tempted to think lightly of the passage, but Newman reminds us that this parable comes directly from Christ, and so we must give it full weight. Moreover, our own experience of life says this circumstance, unfair as it seems, is common to every person. “We are not asked whether we will choose this world, before we are born into it. We are brought under the yoke of it, whether we will or no.” Let’s remember who we are: We are dust, and to dust we will return. We are God’s creation, not the Creator.
And we are the guest whom the Host compels to make the choice of joining Him or rejecting Him. He has revealed Himself to us and bid us come. Many of us, seeing the great cost, would like to bury our talents and wish we had simply been left alone (as the servant with the one talent desires). Or we may be offended at what God asks of us, just as Jonah was, but the choice is clear. “Instead of shrinking from the responsibility, rather we must comfort ourselves with the privilege, with the contemplation of the fulness of the aid given us to help us in all our trials; and, thus encouraged, we must go on to cooperate with God manfully.”
At times the cross of following our Lord seems too heavy to bear and we may resent it. At these times we should remember that God who is the Author of the blessings and trials of our lives ordains everything for our benefit. Nor are the present sufferings to be compared with the glory that will be revealed (Romans 8:18).
There is a lesson also in these difficult passages of Scripture. Perhaps they are difficult because we do not yet have the mind of Christ. Our minds are influenced instead by our culture, by the books we read, by the company we keep. Are these drawing us closer to Christ or driving us farther away? When we read Scripture, do we read it through the lens of the Church, openly and honestly, pondering each word and truth? Or in our reading of it are we decreasing its demands with the perspectives of our culture, generation or nationality? Let’s ask the Holy Spirit for fresh eyes and open hearts, so that we may hear Him clearly and walk in His ways.