Homily 386 – 26th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 15, 2019
Epistle: (257) – Colossians 3:4-11
Gospel: (76) – Luke 14:16-24
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
We live in a transactional society. Around this time of year, there are a lot of gift exchanges – mostly, these take the form of mutual gift exchanges, where everyone receives about what they give.
I’m not specifically referencing family gift exchanges here. Those take many forms. In my family, there was still an expectation that gifts would be given, and approximately the same value would be received.
In my mind, that wasn’t a gift.
And, based on the reading of the Gospel account, we can safely say that Christ wouldn’t consider it a gift either.
In fact, there are places in the Gospels where Christ explicitly tells us that we should give to those who cannot possibly participate in an “exchange”. That’s where today’s account gets us.
It starts quite normally, though. A King wants to give a banquet and invites His people to come – meaning, the tribes of Israel, the chosen people.
It had been a very, very long time since such a banquet occurred. In fact, in the memory of the people, there had never been such an event. A few individuals had been able to see the King individually – Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, others of the prophets.
Those individuals had tried, without much success, to keep the chosen ones focused on their King.
And yet, many doubted even the existence of the King. To the point that when the King Himself came down and personally invited the people to His banquet, many said, ‘We have no King but Caesar – this man is not our King.”
What they didn’t realize was that this invitation wasn’t just an ordinary banquet – it would be for their salvation, their rescue. The rescue of the entire world.
So having rejected, for the most part, the invitation, the King broadened to the invitation to others that were not of the Chosen ones, but rather of the unclean.
He made it possible for the unclean to be made clean, and for them to attend the great banquet – which would be an eternal banquet, the banquet of salvation.
And there was still yet room. The King wanted a full house, so he went beyond even the unclean to the barbarians who weren’t even civilized.
No matter – they would enjoy the banquet anyway.
The first group – the chosen people of the King – rejected the message altogether. Yet they were the ones that perhaps had the most ability to reciprocate the invitation.
Or, maybe they understood they couldn’t reciprocate and declined the invite because they were too proud to admit they couldn’t give back in the same measure the King had given them.
Their poverty would be exposed, and they would be ashamed and embarrassed that they were not equal to the King.
Their illusion of equality would be shattered.
The ones who did attend, the later invitations, perhaps understood that they were unable to reciprocate. And the acceptance of the invitation – the acceptance of the Gift – was to them a true blessing.
That gift demonstrated something. That gift demonstrated that there was no way they could reciprocate, and yet the gift was given, and the gift was accepted.
That gift demonstrated Love.
To be love, to be a true gift or in the terms of God a true Grace, the one receiving it isn’t able to reciprocate that gift. At all.
The only thing they offer in return is gratitude, and a return of the Love they were given.
Just like parents giving gifts to their children, especially younger children. The delight in the gift is thanks enough because the gift was given without expectation of return.
And if a return gift is offered, it becomes more meaningful the more inadequate the exchange. It is the token nature of a child’s gift to a parent that brings the most joy to the parent.
The Father delights in our offerings to Him, not because of the content – but because it is given from ourselves and in love.
Most recently for me, I’ve received gifts from my grandchildren. And those gifts are cherished, not because of the content, but because those gifts shared a bit of themselves.
In one case I got a construction paper card, made of the handprints of my grandson, with the writing on it “I love you this much” and it stretched out. Much of that was done by an adult, I’m sure – but the sentiment was completely his own.
He got me a birthday card – a cookie monster birthday card. I cherish that because he chose it for me – he wanted to share his joy with me. The next year – Paw Patrol.
That’s what God does for us, in abundance. God asks us to give Him ourselves, to share our joy and thanksgiving with Him.
And in turn, to take our abundance and offer it to those who cannot repay, who cannot reciprocate. That, in fact, is the only gift we can offer to God.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!