- Fr. Athanasius Oweis
A Royal Invitation
Link to Gospel Reading: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
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.'"
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
The Gospel this morning talks about a man who was a king. The Gospel does not mention that he is a king, but a man who is able to invite everyone on the streets of the city, is certainly in the level of royalty. Other parables of Christ do mention the wedding feast by the king in Matthew 22. What is surprising in this Gospel is the direction of events. In real life people wish to meet the king. When we were little children and we were sleeping in the car on our way back home, and my mother wanted to wake us up before we got home so she doesn’t carry us to our beds, she would say loudly: “Look, Look, the King, the King is in the car next to us”, and we would wake up and start looking for him. If you open the Facebook profile of many of the people who are ruled by a monarchy, you would find their profile photo showing themselves having a picture with the king or the prince. I graduated from a school where the late king Hussein handed us our diplomas and I bragged about it for a very long time. What is normal is that the people wish for a day where they could meet the king for only a moment, let alone have a meal with him. In our gospel, this King loved his people, it was Him who initiated the invitation. But what is really surprising is that the people said “NO”. This is beyond imagination! Imagine that today you received an invitation to the White House to have a meal in two weeks with the president. Many people would lose sleep for two weeks. They would think what would they dress, how would they behave, what would they say to him, and they would obsess about that moment. It would be the highlight of the year of them, and for some people the highlight of their lives. Anyone who says no would be considered out of his mind! The invitees in our Gospel did exactly that. They refused an invitation that no one should ever even think of refusing. The King showed his love to them by making them a great feast, a great banquet, worthy of royalty. He told them “Come, for all is ready”. What was the feast, the greatest of all feasts: Himself, His Body! But they declined. The did not care for the King’s love. Not only they did not care, but they were also offensively dishonest, as they began to create excuses out of thin air. What is really baffling is that all these people with all those excuses will get hungry at the end of their day, they need to eat supper. There is really no excuse not to eat supper. The invitation was not to prepare, but to eat. Still, they declined and none of their reasons made sense. Will the wife prevent her husband from eating, or will the land disappear if you went to supper, or the cows run away if you became hungry? What a dishonorable manner to decline. Refusing to meet the King for oxen, or to stare at dirt, or to be a slave for your woman rather than being her man. The fathers say You are what you eat, and you become what you worship. If we worship oxen and dirt, aren’t we becoming lower than animals, or even the dirt on which animals step? You think you own the land or the oxen? The reality is: They own you!
The excuses are seen by the Church Fathers as having both literal and spiritual meanings. The literal dimension indicates that temporal worldly cares are more important to many people than the eternal Kingdom of God. St. Ambrose sees the excuse of the five yokes of oxen is the Jews' enslavement to the five books of the Law. While St. Theophylact sees it with the wife’s excuse as things pertaining to the five senses and all pleasures of the flesh.
The servant who was sent to gather many is Christ. In His first coming He invited the Jews, and they declined, so He invited all of mankind. Supper indicates evening, the end of the age.
This Gospel serves as a warning to us. As these people are the faithless Jews who rejected Christ, or those outside the Church replacing those within who have rejected their own baptism. Orthodoxy is not inherited, nor it is a lifetime guarantee of salvation. If you do not come to the feast, you lose your invitation. The Gospel today wants to wake us up from our deep sleep in earthly matters. As St. Paul today emphasizes in his epistle to the Ephesians: “Therefore it is said, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."
It also has a strong and positive message. You are invited to a feast of Joy, a feast where all those who were treated unjustly would rejoice. If you were lame in people’s eyes, you are whole in the Kings’ eyes. You are more deserving than what people believe or think, you are more valuable. If people think that you are blind, You are the only one who is worthy to see the glory of the King of Kings. So Let’s listen to St. Paul’s epistle today and let’s Look carefully how we walk, as wise men, making the most of the time in the light of Christ. As he told us, Walk in the light of the day! So we may be counted worthy for the invitation from our King and our God.
May the Lord our God give us the ability always to reply to the invitation with the Theotokos’ words: I am the Lord’s handmaiden, let it be according to your word. Amen