Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Fourteenth Sunday of Matthew
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 2: 2-14 (Gospel of the 14th Sunday of Matthew)
Good morning Prayer Team!
School districts are adopting stricter dress codes with each passing year. If you want to attend school, a student has to dress appropriately. One does not need to wear rich, opulent clothes to school, but there are certain standards that schools expect from their students. At summer camp, we also have a dress code. We lay out specific types of clothing that are prohibited. And after laying out all the restrictions, we say the following, in case we missed something: “If an item of clothing seems like it would be inappropriate for an Orthodox Christian summer camp, it probably is.”
The Gospel lesson from today is almost identical with the Parable of the Banquet we read in the Gospel of Luke 14: 16-24, which is normally read a couple of Sundays before the Nativity in December. In both Gospel accounts, Jesus tells the story of a man giving a banquet and inviting guests. In the Matthew account, the man is a king and the purpose of the banquet is a marriage feast for his son. (There are many examples in the Gospels where the stories are similar but not the same. This may be for two reasons—it may be that Jesus told the same stories at different times in a slightly different way. More likely, however, is that when two people witness the same thing, they still describe it differently. So Jesus may have told the story once and they just recorded it slightly differently.) In the Luke account, when the servants are sent to tell the guests that the feast is ready, the guests all make excuses and decline. In the Matthew account, the invited guests not only make excuses, some of them actually kill the servants.
In both cases, the man giving the banquet is upset with the guests. In the Matthew account, he actually sends soldiers to destroy the murderers and burn their city. In both cases, the host tells his servants to go and find as many people as possible so that the house may be filled.
The lesson from both parables is that the host of the banquet is the Lord. The invited guests are the people of Israel. They summarily rejected the invitation. And so the Lord is calling the Gentiles, everyone, to come to Him.
In the Matthew account, there is one other specific difference. One of the guests who accepts the invitation to the feast arrives but it not dressed properly. The King notices that the man does not have a “wedding garment.” He asks the man how he got into the feast without a wedding garment. When the man fails to answer, the King orders his servants to cast the man out of the banquet.
There are a couple of interpretations of this parable in contemporary context. First is obviously the meaning of the banquet and the invitation. The Lord calls each of us to follow Him. It is up to us to choose whether we do or not. In verse two, we read that the king gave a marriage feast for his son. We might interpret this feast as the Eucharist. Every time the Divine Liturgy is offered, there is an invitation from our King, the Lord, to come to a feast for His Son, the banquet of the Eucharist. Each of us has to then choose whether we will attend the banquet, and if we attend, whether we will partake of the Eucharist. There is then the unique wrinkle thrown in by Matthew about the wedding garment. If we are going to attend the banquet, we need to be properly dressed. And we’re not talking about whether someone wears jeans versus slacks or if a woman wears pants instead of a dress. We’re talking about the garment around one’s heart as they attend the banquet. If one wearing a light garment around their heart or one that is heavy with sin. The man in the parable did one thing right—he desired to attend the banquet. But he did something wrong—he came “in costume.” He pretended to fit in when really he didn’t. And this is a sobering lesson to us. Many people who come to Communion are living lives that are totally incongruent with Christianity. We all sin. There are stains on every garment. But if a person is purposefully living outside of the bounds of Christianity—sex outside of marriage, living with someone outside of marriage, a drinking and partying lifestyle, an out of control potty mouth, habitual poor ethical choices—should this person be approaching the Holy Chalice?
I think most of us know deep down the kind of garment we are wearing around our heart. We know that there is a difference between struggling with a sin and just giving in to it. By all means, if you are struggling, keep coming to Communion. But for those who are not struggling, who have just decided, I am going to live a life of a certain sin, we have to think soberly about whether the garment we are wearing to the feast is appropriate. And just like what we say at summer camp, if a behavior we habitually engage in seems like it is incongruent with receiving Communion, it probably is.
It is very hard for me to write messages like this, just as it was undoubtedly hard for Jesus to preach messages like this. I don’t want to every sound judgmental and Jesus didn’t want to either. We welcome everyone to the church. We want everyone to come to church. Any sinner can repent of any sin. There is no one who isn’t struggling. There are, however, based on our choices, some people who have given up and given in, who are not clothed with the proper spiritual garment. Christ calls us not only to come, but to come with repentance, to come with the proper garment. And the proper garment is one that shows evidence of a struggle, not one that is necessarily without blemish but also not one that is without struggle.
After You had risen on the third day, O Lord, and after the Apostles had worshiped You, Peter cried out to You, “Women stood courageously, but I acted cowardly. The Robber stated Your divinity, but I disavowed You. Will You ever call me Your disciple anymore, or will You again appoint me as a fisher of the deep? I pray You to receive me in repentance, O God, and save me.” (1st Kathisma of the second set, Plagal First Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Come to Christ, but make sure that you are dressed appropriately—with a garment of struggle, sincerity and repentance!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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