The Lord said this parable, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; and at the time for 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 must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I 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 still there is 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, few are chosen.”
Luke 14: 16-24 (11th Sunday of Luke)
This morning’s Gospel lesson, always read the second Sunday before the Nativity, is a parable. A parable is a story with a hidden meaning but a real life application. In this story, we read about a man who was giving a banquet, and when the food was ready, he sent out servants to tell his invited guests that the banquet was ready. Each made excuses why he could not come. The servants told the man about all the excuses people had made not to come to the banquet. The householder was angry and sent the servants into the streets of the city to invite the poor and lame to the banquet. When the servants to the householder there was still room, he told them to invite anyone they found to the banquet. He also gave a stern warning to those who did not accept his invitation.
In Jesus’ time, this banquet referred His message. He was inviting people to Himself. The invited guests were His own people, the Jews, who made excuses to not believe. The “poor and lame” who were invited from the city represents the Gentiles, that it wasn’t only Jews who would come to the banquet, but Gentiles as well. As for going out to the “highways and hedges” and compelling everyone to come in, this meant that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be shared with ALL people, all nations everyone. As for those who were originally invited not being welcomed, this would refer to the Jewish Temple leadership, the ones who should have been the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, but who instead would clamor for His crucifixion. They would not be invited to the banquet.
There are two other “banquets” that we can relate to this parable. The first is the banquet of the Divine Liturgy, specifically Holy Communion. Every time the Divine Liturgy is offered, we have the opportunity to “feast” on a “heavenly banquet” by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ through Holy Communion. The invitation is extended each Sunday and on many other days of the church year. How often do you answer the invitation and come to partake? And when you don’t, what is the excuse? If a person invited me to dinner 50 times and I only accepted the invitation once, it wouldn’t really reflect well on my feelings for that person. The invitation to partake of Communion is there at every Divine Liturgy, whether we are in attendance or not. If we are only answering this invitation on Christmas and Easter, because that is how often we attend church, it doesn’t really reflect well on our feelings for Christ. The intention of Christ in instituting the Eucharist was for us to partake of it often. For those who attend Divine Liturgy each Sunday, if we are not receiving often, we also have to ask ourselves, why?
The second “banquet” we are invited to is membership in the church. Membership in the church comes with certain blessings and with certain responsibilities. When I say “membership”, I’m not referring specifically to filling out a pledge card and being able to vote at a meeting. I’m speaking about “belonging to the church.” Many people feel more like “the church belongs to me,” rather than “I belong to the church.” The church does not belong to anyone. It is Christ’s church. So, when we join the church, we are joining ourselves to Christ. After all, at the baptism service, the priest asks the person being baptized “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” So, if we choose to belong to the church, we are in fact belonging to Christ. The greatest benefit in belonging to Christ is our potential for salvation. Along the way, there are other benefits—the sacraments, grace, forgiveness, to name a few. There are also some responsibilities—first and foremost, if we belong to Christ, it presupposes an interest in developing a relationship with Him, through prayer and worship. One would think there would be an expectation to come to worship regularly and on time, to contribute to the life of the parish, to being involved in ministries, and to be involved in some level of service to the greater community.
I am opining here—when our children join sports teams, there are expectations for them and for us as parents. There is an expectation that they will go to every practice and game, get there early or on time, be appropriately dressed with proper equipment, that we will provide snacks when it is our turn, etc. There are expectations if you want to own a car, hold down a job, or just about anything else. However, people seem to get their nose out of joint when someone suggests there are expectations to belonging to a church. Again, remember that we belong to the church, the church doesn’t belong to us. And in belonging to the church, really we belong to Christ.
There are at least two banquets that we are regularly invited to—the banquet of the Eucharist, and the banquet of belonging to the church. Will you accept Christ’s invitation to these two banquets? How often? The best expression of the Christian life is when we accept both of these invitations on a regular basis.
Come now, one and all, in faith let us celebrate the annual memorial of the Fathers before the Law, Abraham and those with him. Let us honor as is right the tribe of Judah, and let us extol the Servants in Babylon, the Trinity’s image, who extinguished the furnace fire, and also Daniel. As we unerringly cling to the predictions of the Prophets, together with Isaiah we cry out in a loud voice, Behold the Virgin will conceive in the womb, and she will bear a Son, Emmanuel, which means God is with us. (Doxastikon of the Forefathers, Grave Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Come to the banquet today!