2014.12.14 Luke 11 The Great Banquet
St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:4-11 BRETHREN, when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away; anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.
The Gospel of Luke 14:16-24 The Lord said this parable: “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time of the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I must go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.’ 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. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet. For many are called, but few are chosen.'”
Fr. Jonah’s Sermon:
The Gospel today is the famous parable about the guests who were invited to a wedding banquet. First of all, you see here a very important thing, which is that God – because the master in this parable is God – is calling us. And it is important that He is not taking advantage of us, calling us to come here to work or do something, so somebody could say, “Why do you take advantage of my job,” or something else?
He invites us to enjoy together and to be the same [as Him]. And this is why I say many times here, and people are very surprised, that Orthodoxy is not a religion, because of course they know little of theology, and especially Orthodox theology. Because when somebody invites people to eat, they eat together and they become equal. You invite, for example, your family or friends on big days like Chinese New Year or Christmas or Easter because you feel this love and you want to be together. Of course, there is respect for the one who sits at the head of the table, but this is our relationship with God. Not only this, but God is doing something much different than inviting us to eat food as we eat here. But, you know, He becomes the food, because what is the Great Banquet? This is the great banquet [pointing the chalice and paten on the altar], the Liturgy, the Holy Communion, that God becomes the One who invites, and the One who is the food. And as I told you, even if for some reason, for some understandable reason, you don’t receive the Holy Communion this Sunday, you participate by your priesthood because by your chrismation you have priesthood in this banquet. And this banquet is now on the earth and it will be forever in Heaven because it is God who wants to be shared., who want to be the tree life that Adam, that Adam did not want to eat of, even that was what he should have eaten. And it is important that when the Gospel today speaks of Jesus, it says, “our life.” And then it says, “Then we will see the way of life.” So life is, as I have told you here many times, not a biological thing, it is not that my heart is beating; it’s not this. Life is something shared, and it is an answer to the call of love.
But what happened in this parable. God, I mean the master, called his friends first. And it is very surprising that everyone found an excuse. I think that they all said the holy word, as people like to say, “I’m busy.” That covers everything. But everybody had an excuse: the first one said, “I bought a field and I must go to see it.” And some said just, “I cannot come, sorry.” Another said he had to buy some oxen, and this was at night since it was a dinner banquet, and he would not try to buy oxen at night. It is not like is is now with lights everywhere and people would stay in their homes with candles. Another said, “I’m married, so I cannot come,” which is so ridiculous to think that a married person would not invite other people to his house or go to other peoples’ houses. Finally, this master was not inviting them to spend the night, just to have a dinner.
It is very important that he was not inviting them to do work for him, but since he was a great master it was a great honor, as if he would invite you or me. And why this happened is very important, and I say this because we must see how God invites us. There are different ways that God invites. The first way is that there were friendships there with the people the master invited. And it seems that two of them were rich since they had just bought things like a field or oxen. And from this point of view, you can see that they had money, and is this a gift of God? Yes it is. So God invites us by his gifts, and what is there a greater gift than to find a husband or wife and get married, to have the celebration of love and to exist with the other: this is a very great gift. And you must understand that in the Orthodox Church, marriage is a very great gift and a call from God. Just as it is a call from God for somebody to become a monk or a priest, marriage is also a very, very big call. So, God invited these people by giving them a good life and by loving one another.
But what happened, and why did they all refuse Him? I remember years ago, I was in Kaohsiung, teaching in a seminary there and some people said, “I have the call of God,” and others said that they did not have a call. I said, “How do you know? Everybody has a call of God.” To be more accurate, I certainly did not ask them that question, but they had a way of speaking about that and others, Protestants, were asking about this, not me. I said the opposite, that everybody has a call because God calls everyone by the grace and the gifts that He gives us. And what happens. We take this gift and make it something absolute. Then we forget God. It’s as if I want something from you and when I have gotten it, I say, “Forget about you, I have taken what I wanted from you. They make their gift into an idol. Many people see the icons in this church and they say they are idols. But they forget that they are not idols; it is a person. And they have forgotten how many other things in their lives they have made into idols. How do I make an idol of something? For example, if God gave me a good marriage, then I might stay with that and forget God and don’t feed this marriage with the love of God. Then gradually the result will be that problems start because there are needs, like a flower needs water and see here we did not put water on these flowers [in front of the altar] and they are destroyed. So one may say, “I’m married, OK; I found a good woman and that’s it and I don’t need God.” Or another example is a scientist, because I think you all here [visiting students] are scientist, and God has given him or her a very good mind to work with, and then he forgets that this is a gift. God will not take back the gift but we will waste it. And for example if somebody, like a scientist, does not work for the good of human beings and he hides, then he will be an evil scientist. And somebody can have children, which are a gift of God, and many people beg to have children. But when God has given them the gift, they forget God and they even forget their love and make the children into an idol. The result many times is terrible, and many times they may stop going to church since they say they don’t like the environment, they don’t like something else, they cannot wake up or something else.
Or other times, when as a spiritual father in Greece I would tell the husband and wife to keep their love, they would tell me, “We don’t have time any more; we have kids now.” And I tell them that after ten or twenty years the kids would leave the house to go to university or whatever, and then you will be two strangers. You will become strangers gradually and after a few years you will discover that there are two strangers living together but hating each other, and the marriage will be a hell.
The story of Abraham is very important here. God promised him that he would be the father of many nations and millions of people, but he had gotten to about a hundred years old and still had no children. Yet he was so good and he did not say to God, “You are a liar. You promised this to me and you did not do it.” Right? And this is why he was so good, and this is what God saw in him, this mystery of calling. And then what happened when the kid had grown up and was about fifteen years old, Isaac, right? God told him to sacrifice his son. And it is not the time to explain this story but Abraham said, “God gives and God takes away.” He did not make an idol of his son. He did not say to God, “Now I am so old and you promised me a kid. You gave me one and now you want me to kill him. If I kill my kid than all your promises are empty; you’re a liar.” Finally, because he was that way, because he did not make his kid an idol, God blessed him because the final blessing of Abraham is after the Incarnation.
But there is another calling of God, in a painful way, by diseases, because the Master said to his servant, “They don’t want to come, All right, go into the street and take all the beggars and the lame, the sick people and those who don’t have a job, and all those in bad situations. He was calling them also in this way. And when the call came through His angels or the Spirit of God or any other way, it is strange, these poor people went. Obviously, you could say that you did not want this call, to be poor and to be sick and to have big problems. But finally, it seems that this works, sorry but it works. And don’t think that everybody could enter, because if you see the same story in another Gospel, it says that somebody was not invited tried to come in (like an official Chinese dinner, coming in without a particular flower or whatever). And they said to this person how he came in without the proper clothing that they were giving at the entrance to the banquet. And they said that there still was space; His servants went and told him that they had taken all that they found but there was still space for more people. The table of God is never full; there is always room for more. So, from this point of view and it reminds each of us to remember his call. You must remember some small detail, which is very important: when someone invites you to a lunch or dinner, or you invite others, it is important not just to eat, but to stay and talk a little, to socialize. This why I must thank you first because you come, to the Lord’s Supper, which is the Liturgy, the Eucharist, and also what we do later, staying to talk here, and we speak for God, and to sacrifice one hour of our time to ask our questions that will help other people who may not be Orthodox and who come here for many reasons. And this will last for many years on the internet. Someone may say, “Oh, I also have this question.” This is good, right? So, may the Holy Trinity protect all of us, and please stay later to talk.
Recorder: Prof. Baker