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The Parable of the Great Supper
Sermon on the Parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16-24)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Lame excuses seem to be a regular feature of human life, don’t they? They usually result from the need for a hasty explanation when we are caught doing something we shouldn’t, or neglecting to do something that we should have. Right? “The dog ate my homework.” “My alarm didn’t go off!” And then there’s the classic biblical lame excuse: “The wife which you gave me, she gave it to me and so I ate it!” (Genesis 3:12). But today’s Gospel reading features excuses which have nothing to do with trying to avoid blame or punishment. These excuses are not made in haste. No one is being caught, or confronted, or accused of anything. These excuses are intentional, and what’s worse, they are insulting.
“The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
The dog eating the homework is at least something that is plausible, if utterly unlikely. The “alarm not sounding” really can happen, but it’s usually due to human error, myself being the human. Someone else may play a role (or not!) in my actions, but, as we all have been taught, when we come to confession, we should never, ever name or blame anybody else for our own sins. “Grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother” says the great penitential prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian.
But these excuses in the Lord’s parable are ridiculous. They have zero plausibility. They are nonsensical. “I bought land and need to go see it?” Who does that? And even if it were so, the “seeing” of the land could be done at any time. And who would buy five animals and not check to make sure that they were strong and healthy prior to purchase? And being married? Since when does marriage prevent one from attending an event? The truth is, these excuse-makers simply don’t want to go. The parable is of course is directed to the pharisees and lawyers who were sitting at a table with Jesus. That’s the context. They despised Jesus, and were watching Him. They were trying to expose Him as a fraud, a charlatan and a law-breaker, grilling Him about this and that. Finally Jesus shows them, by this parable, that they really have no interest in the Heavenly Kingdom, and the Messiah’s Banquet. They excuse themselves from faith and discipleship based on the absurdities of the false religion they themselves created and which the Lord describes as “binding men’s backs with heavy and grief-producing burdens which they themselves are unwilling to touch with even so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:4). The excuses are ridiculous because they think Jesus is ridiculous. They have no intention of recognizing this Jesus as the Messiah, so they insult His intelligence. As Ezekiel rightly relates: “Son of man, you are living in a rebellious house. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 12:2). But the streets and the lanes, the highways and hedges refer to those whom the Lord will invite to sit with Him at His table – the Gentiles. But that’s another story!
So, what should the invited guests have done? They should have run with eagerness to the table of Christ! They should have danced with joy to be called to discipleship. And what does this mean? The holy apostle to the Gentiles tells us in today’s epistle reading tells us (Colossians 3:4-11)! In order to attend the banquet, we need to be dressed in the appropriate garments, right? In this case, the garment is Christ Himself. “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” says St. Paul in another place (Galatians 3:27). So in order for us to put on the new garments, the “new man” in Christ, we must first shed the old clothes of the “old man” (Ephesians 4:22). And what are these old clothes of the old, sinful humanity?
St. Paul just told us in the epistle:
“sexual immorality, (and by the way, Paul uses the Greek word “porneia” which includes pornography along with the rest of it!), uncleanness, passions, evil desires, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” And then he continues: “But now, you yourselves, are to put off all these: anger, wrath (furious lashing-out), malice (simmering, seething ill-will), blasphemy, and filthy language out of your mouths. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:8-9). To shed these deformities of sin, man is restored to who he was truly created to be, and permits the acquisition of the “likeness” of God, says St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on Colossians, verses 9&10). 
And that brings us to today’s important commemoration of the Church calendar, the second Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers. The ancestors of Christ according to the flesh are remembered today, along with all the great Fathers and Mothers and Prophets of the Old Testament, starting with Adam, Abraham, the Righteous Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, including Holy Prophet Elias and Daniel, and concluding with Holy Prophet Zechariah, Ss Joachim and Anna, Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist. They lived before the Law and under the Law, and are remembered for their holiness, bravery, humility, and all of the virtues which constitute the garment of Christ. That’s why we are constantly reminded that we should become familiar with the Scriptures, both Old and New, in order to imitate the good deeds of the righteous and flee the ways of the wicked (See Canon of St Andrew of Crete, Ode 8, Tuesday of the First Week.)
Brothers and Sisters, the journey to Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph was, in the end, a very difficult one. The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 65 miles. Mary was very pregnant, ready to deliver, so the journey by foot, even with a donkey, had to take about 5 grueling days, ending in a very steep uphill climb to Bethlehem, which sits atop a mountain ridge, near the edge of the Judean desert. This indicates to us that to be with Christ, to be clothed in Christ, to have Christ born within our hearts, to acquire the virtues and to strip away vices, requires effort, struggle, and persistence. St. Nektarios of Aegina (and I’ll finish with his words) said this:
“We have within us deeply rooted weaknesses, passions, and defects. This can not all be cut out with one sharp motion, but patience, persistence, care and attention. The path leading to perfection is long. Pray to God so that he will strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls and, having stood up, immediately run to God, not remaining in that place where you have fallen. Do not despair if you keep falling into your old sins. Many of them are strong because they have received the force of habit. However, with the passage of time and with fervor will they be conquered. Don't let anything deprive you of your hope!”
(St. Nectarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness, 3)