The invitation.

Homily 440 – 27th Sunday After Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 13, 2020
Epistle: (257) Colossians 3:4-11 (Forefathers) and (213) Galatians 5:22-6:2 (St. Herman)
Gospel: (76) Luke 14:16-24 (Forefathers) and (24) Luke 6:17-23 (St. Herman)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

What will our excuse be? That is one of the questions we have to face this day. We too are invited to the banquet. One we can choose not to attend. That is the height of privilege, at least in my assessment.

If we go back a couple of verses, we find that this story was told in the context of a response to a statement – “Blessed is the one who will feast in the Kingdom of God!”

Let’s even go back a few verses further. To verse 12 of Luke’s 14th Chapter.

Jesus also said to the one who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, do not call your friends, brothers, kinsmen or rich neighbors because they might return the favor and pay you back. Instead, when you give a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind to come. Then you will be blessed, because they do not have the means to pay you back. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.”

When one of those who sat at the table with him heard these things, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will feast in the Kingdom of God!”

On one level we can see that the story is one telling us the grave danger of rejecting the invitation of God to the feast. St. Theophylact in his commentary on this passage reminds us that the feast is a metaphor for our own salvation.

That adds another dimension to the discussion for me at least. In rejecting the invitation, we are in fact rejecting our salvation.

Yet, even when doing so, all is not lost. We are still able to be forgiven and change our minds. Recall the question of our Lord about the son who did the will of the Father. One son said “I will go” and didn’t, and the other said “I will not” but did.

So the entire context is about having generosity. And it leads to the reading from this morning about the generosity of the Father, who is the man. St. Theophylact again notes that the use of the phrase “a certain man” in the parable refers to God, not in judgment or power, but in his Love for us.

If it were judgment or power, God would have been described as a predatory animal – a panther or leopard or bear. This is not about judgment but about love.

The servant who is mention is in fact our Lord. He was sent at supper time – that is, the appointed and proper time – to call those to whom God had invited.

Who did God call? One can say that on one level, it was a call to all of humanity. In this specific instance, however, it was a call to Israel, God’s chosen.

Now we can begin to see the excuses in their appropriate light and illustrate the privilege of the Jewish leadership, in being able to believe they can safely reject the invitation.

One says “I cannot, as I have bought a field.” That is to say, he is so entangled in the things of this world, the fallen and corruptible world, that he cannot see the reality which is the Kingdom of God.

Another says, “I cannot as I have bought five oxen, and must try them out.” That is, I am pursuing wealth, not the things of God.

Yet a third says “I cannot as I have just been married.” That is, I am pursuing the pleasure of physical nature, not the pleasure of the presence of God.

Remember, this invitation is to our very salvation. These important people, on the whole, represented the Jewish elite – the priests, the scribes, the rabbis who interpreted the law. In other words, the ones who should have known better.

So then the servant – Christ – goes to the poor and blind and maimed, that is the ordinary people of Israel. And they respond.

Then, He continues to the people of the highways and hedges – that is the Gentiles. And they respond.

We shouldn’t overlook where we fall in this mix. At first glance we may include ourselves with the Gentiles – but that would be risky in my assessment. We should likely include ourselves with the learned.

We are, after 2,000 years of following Christ, the new Israel, and the new “elite” or “rulers” of Israel. Maybe not us individually. But collectively, we have heard more of the things of God than the ordinary Jew of the time of Christ. We know more – and we are accountable for more. To whom much is given, much is expected.

The one thing our Orthodox Christian teaching tells us more than anything else is that we are, regardless of our position or station, fallen and subject to the passions.

Pride has come to rule our existence – as the people who made excuses. In their pride, they rejected the invitation of the Father to salvation.

We see this literally everywhere we turn in our world today. We see politics calling each other liars and cheats, in that we and only we know the truth. We see influencers on social media who convince us that the pursuit of selfish physical pleasure and status is all we need.

We see everything in the media that tells us our happiness is just around the next purchase or the next investment return or the next … whatever.

Yet all of us know, if we are honest with ourselves, that the material things of this world aren’t the things of happiness. We only become more discontented.

The things of happiness are, to quote the old adage, things that money cannot buy. The joy of a child at play. The joy of a family in love. Sharing of whatever we have, regardless of the amount. Whether we find them in the earthly families or the family we have here, with one another, in Christ.

These are the things of happiness. These are the things of humility. These are the things of the Banquet in the Kingdom of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!