In today’s gospel reading, we are invited by the King of Kings, the Master of all Creation, Father God Himself, to come to the feast of feasts Come for all things are now ready. Come and feast! What great and arduous task must we do to earn such an honour? Simply to decide to come, to choose to accept and make this invitation our greatest treasure. “Come!” The Gospel is not so much a command as a gift, an invitation to share in the love and joy of Christ! Christ invites us (Matt.11:28,30) “Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Let us accept this invitation and make this great supper the one thing we wouldn’t miss for all the world. We have the invitation, but will we come? It is entirely our choice.
In Matthew the parable starts (Matt.22:2) “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son.” There has never been, nor will ever be, a more monumental banquet in the history of the human race. This is the wedding feast given by God the Father for His only begotten Son. And if God’s Son Jesus Christ is the bridegroom, who is the bride? We, the Church are, in the scriptures we are called the bride of Christ. We are invited not just as honoured guests, but even as the bride of the Bridegroom.
We understand our invitation to this great feast as being invited to that great and final feast day at the second coming of Christ, when the sheep will be separated from the goats, or the bride of Christ from those too busy or otherwise unwilling to come. We also understand that we come in anticipation and begin to experience this great and eternal feast, joining with all of the heavenly citizens, at every Liturgy when we receive Holy Communion. What could possibly be so important in our lives that we would be “too busy” to attend? We answer this question by our words as by our actions; “to come or not to come – that is the (real) question.”
Let us look at the excuses offered in today’s gospel reading by those who are “too busy” to come, for they really haven’t changed much. We shout them out by our decisions as to where we spend our time. The first man bought a piece of ground. His focus was completely on increasing his earthly material wealth, having no time for the immaterial and spiritual side of things. The second had just bought 5 yoke of oxen. The 5 yoked oxen represent the 5 senses of our physical body being completely yoked to the things of this world and allowing for no development of our spiritual sensitivity, which is developed of course in prayer. Even our hand will wither away if we don’t use it. These excuses place material gain, money and the things of this world ahead of anything else. The third man’s excuse is that he has taken a wife, representing placing love of pleasure before love of God. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities if they are kept where they belong, firmly in 2nd place while choosing God above all. Yet no matter the culture, no matter the historical time, the story stays the same. We humans get caught up in the less important, in the good things of the world, neglecting the one thing truly needful, life in Christ.
Notice that the invitations were first given to those whom God had blessed with material wealth. The problem isn’t that these were sinful people, they were diligently pursuing good and blessed things, marriage, a home, a business. They were probably quite successful as far as they and their friends were concerned. They were likely comfortable, even rich, healthy, and privileged – the beautiful people. They were also, or were becoming, self-satisfied, self-sufficient, self-made and ultimately self-centered and self-ish, as isolated self-absorbed individuals. The self-made man has everything to lose. When we isolate and look out for #1, communing with our own desires and passions, we are on a lonely path leading to a stark and desolate destination. The Fathers teach that we are walking down the wide path to hell. It is only in community, as corporate and connected people, in communion with God and each other, that we enter the kingdom of heaven.
The self-absorbed person is pursuing the goals of the foolish rich man we heard about a couple weeks ago. Remember him? He planned to build bigger barns to contain his bumper crop harvest, and told his soul to eat, drink and be merry as he had it made. But God’s response was “You fool, for this very night your soul is required of you,” and his lack of preparation for his true eternal home would reveal him to be poorer than the most destitute poor. Like the nameless rich man, honored on earth, yet not having invested enough in the kingdom of heaven to even secure the comfort of a drop of water from Lazarus, the beggar that lay destitute at this rich man’s gate, yet Lazarus was carried by the angels to heaven and the great feast!
In today’s gospel lesson, we see the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind, eagerly and gratefully accept the invitation to the great feast of feasts. The weak and destitute know first hand they need the help of God and others. St. Paul tells us (1 Cor.1:26,27) “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty.” Christ said in identical passages in both Mark (2:17) and Luke (5:31 “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Where do we see ourselves? Are we the righteous – “doing pretty well thank you,” or are we sinners in great need of the physician? Our presence at the great wedding feast depends on our answer! Self sufficiency tends to generate pride, whereas trials and dependence tend to lead towards humility. Do we realize we need help from God, and then accept the help we are given? When we are very comfortable and have few struggles, it is easy to grow complacent and become blind to our need to completely rely on God for all things.
There are many exceptions to this, as we can be well off and still recognize our utter dependence on God, or we can be living on the street with nothing and yet be fiercely independent and proud, blaming God himself for our situation. Anything becomes a problem when it becomes the main thing and keeps us from loving God and pursuing kingdom values before all else. Orthodoxy is Paradoxy. It is always about knowing what is truly of eternally value, and backing this awareness up with our time, wallet, and actions. The message in today’s Gospel lesson is that rich or poor, in sickness or in health we need to come, to accept the invitation to the great wedding feast with humility and gratefulness, realizing we can do nothing to earn or deserve such love and grace. We are invited because He is a good God who loves us and all mankind.
Steven Covey has given a great visual analogy on how to keep our priorities realized. He takes a large jar and first places 3 or 4 large stones into it. These represent the most important things in life, our top priorities. They seem to fill up the jar, but then he takes a number of smaller stones and pours them into the jar and they fill up the space all around the large stones. These represent the very important 2nd place priorities we need to take care of. Next, he fills the remaining spaces with sand which flows all around the large and small rocks and finishes filling in the jar. This represent the less important and perhaps even undesirable activities we have in our lives. The jar is now full. The important lesson to get from all of this is that if you don’t intentionally start filling the jar with the large most important stones first, but reverse the order by filling it with sand and smaller rocks, you will never get the true priorities, the large rocks- those things that are truly needful – into the jar. The jar will be plugged with the sand and small rocks representing our less important and even undesirable activities, and the main priorities will be left abandoned.
Above all, we need to know what our main priorities are, and intentionally set aside time for them. In this super heated, material-focused, social media driven culture, it is very easy to fill our jars up with sand and then wonder why we never have the time for what is truly needful. As Orthodox Christians, we know that our #1 priority is to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, and soul. We need to set apart time for our family. Setting priorities to live this out allows us to grow ever closer to Him and to those He has given us to love. When we spend time with God in ways that the Church has shown us from the very beginning, our love increases and our decision to “come” grows ever more solid. I am speaking largely to myself here, but perhaps you may recognize a similar pattern you would like to correct?
What do we do? We continually accept the invitation to the great wedding feast and simply tell God we are unworthy but grateful, and through His love and strength we will come. Then we continue to repent, asking for God’s help to see clearly, to be delivered from the adverse powers of the devil, from vain and useless thoughts and evil imaginations. We take the time to decide what is a true priority and schedule it. As we follow His ways, we are able to taste the fruit of this wonderful banquet, even now, while we are journeying here on planet earth. But we always remember that no matter how well we are able to live a proper “Christian” life, this has no bearing on God’s unfathomable and incomprehensible love for us, and for each and every one of His human creatures. His unchanging desire for each of us, His children is to have us “come,” and find rest in His eternal love and protection. To accept His invitation.
So come my brothers and sisters, and may God grant us the wisdom to know what is truly important, open our eyes to our eternal destiny, and give us joyful anticipation as we prepare for the great wedding feast.
Glory to Jesus Christ!