"Let There Be No Excuses"
Inspired by God, and led by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Fathers of the Church placed the reading of the Parable of the Great Banquet in the Season of Advent, two Sundays before the Feast of the Holy Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Like a gleaming multifaceted diamond of inestimable worth, it casts many pertinent images upon the reader and the doer of God's Holy Word.
One who was in the company of followers of Christ, having been touched by the solemn teaching of our Lord, meaning well, but having not fully comprehended His teachings, makes the remark, "Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God". Seeing that this individual, and the Pharisees who were with him, were implying that to be invited to enter God's Kingdom is the same as to be in it, our Lord begins His parable. His intent is to teach the Jews, and through them to teach us, that those who would pride themselves as being near the Kingdom, may, it they are not obedient to God, fall far short of it..., and be excluded from it. "A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many."
In times of old, when one prepared a feast in the land of Palestine, the event was announced long beforehand. The invitations were sent out and acknowledged as accepted. When the day finally came and all things were in readiness, servants were sent to summon again the already invited guests. To have accepted the invitation beforehand and then to refuse it when the day arrived was considered as a very grave insult.
In the parable, the master is God, the originally invited guests are the Jews, who throughout their history had awaited the day when God would summon them. But when God did, they tragically refused His invitation. The poor who are gathered from the streets and lands of the city, those who are crippled and blind and lame, are the tax-collectors and the sinners who came forth and welcomed our Lord in a manner in which the Jews never had.
Those who were gathered from the highways and along the hedges are the Gentiles, for whom there was still room at God's Feast. It was only when the Jews had refused God's invitation and had left His Banquet Table empty, that the invitation then went out to the Gentiles.
The command in the parable which at times is badly misunderstood, "...compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.", only bespeaks of the great love that God has for all of us, and that He is willing to do everything to save His creation. To this we must add the words of Saint Paul, "The love of Christ controls us" (2 Corinthians 5:14). In the Kingdom of God there is only one compulsion and that is the compulsion of His unceasing Love for us.
The parable spoke of the threat to the Jew's who had refused God's invitation, and it brought undreamed of glorious joy to sinners, and outcasts, and to the Gentiles, who had never imagined receiving such a gift. But it also reveals the great truths which are forever without change and yet always new and vital for the today. In the parable the invited guests made their excuses, and the excuses of mankind lamentably continue to be made with little difference even today.
"But they all alike began to make excuses". The servant saw each separately and received their answers individually. There is no reason to believe that they had ever met to frame a plan to collectively insult their host. While not in concert, they had acted in the same fashion. They were of one kind, and although they answered the servant separately, they answered similarly. The Greek text states ( apo mias gnomis). While spoken by different individuals and molded by different circumstances, they were all the same type.
As birds of the same species will build nests from the same material and in the same forms, without deliberation or concert, so the mind, which in its own nature has enmity against God, will produce where-ever it operates, substantially the same fruits. In an alienated heart there is intense unwillingness to be, or to abide near God. Consequently, there is the conception and production of walls which will shield one's conscience from the sight of God's Holiness.
When the poor were invited to the banquet they hastened to come. When we are invited to the divine banquet we begin to make our excuses. The first said, "I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it". Saint Gregory the Great writes that, "By the farm is meant earthly substance. So he goes out to it who for the purpose of gain thinks only of worldly things". He allowed the claims of business to usurp the claims of God. Indeed how many of us are so immersed in matters of this world that we have little time for worship or for prayer. In seeking to worship Mammon, we have forgotten the Triune God. We have wandered from the narrow path of righteousness.
The second said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out". Saint Augustine writes, "The five yoke of oxen means the five senses of the body. It is through these bodily senses that earthly things are sought for". He had allowed the claims of novelty to usurp the claims of our Lord. This is so often the case when we enter into new possessions. We become so taken up by them that the claims of worship and of God are crowded out of our lives. We acquire a recreational vehicle, a boat, or perhaps a cabin in some remote place. Then we begin to excuse ourselves, "We would love to attend Divine Liturgy, but...". It is so perilously easy for a new game, a new hobby, or even a new friendship to utterly possess us and to keep us away from God.
The third said, with even more finality than the others, "I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come". One of the merciful laws of the Old Testament states: "When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, to be happy with his wife whom he has taken"(Deuteronomy 24:5).
Without doubt, this very law may well have been in this man's mind. It is one of life's great tragedies that we allow "good things" to crowd out the claims of God. There is no lovelier thing than a home. And yet, a home was never meant to be used selfishly. They live best together who live with God in their hearts. They serve each other best, who would also serve their fellow-men. The atmosphere of a home is most holy when those who dwell within it live as members of the great family and household of God.
Our Lord used symbols to more precisely convey His meaning when it appeared too profound for the people to comprehend. The symbol of the Feast presents us with two distinct avenues. It is to be regarded as the Heavenly Banquet which awaits all who are summoned and admitted into the Kingdom of God. And it is also to be seen as the Mystical Supper which is offered to us through Holy communion. Christ's followers knew that God's full coming through the "Messiah" had long been portrayed as a "Feast" for His people at which they would proclaim, "Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation" (Isaiah 25:9).
Dear Friends, we are now in the midst of the Holy Season of Advent. It is a time of great anticipation and preparation. It is a time when God offers us all the joyful opportunity to become renewed. But it is also a time during which we are all too prone to make excuses. Our Lord will be born anew within us and we will be "summoned" to follow the star with the Wisemen, to offer shelter to the Virgin Mary and the Christ-child, to take our place with the shepherds and the animals, and to partake of His Mystical Supper. He will invite us, but we must acknowledge and accept the invitation. There must be no excuses. We cannot truly worship Him unless our adoration finds expression in something more than words. There is an essential truth to an inscription found on the walls of a Medieval Church:
God the Lord speaks to you:
You call me eternal - but you seek me not;
You call me almighty - but you fear me not;
You call me merciful - but you honour me not;
You call me the Light - but you seek me not;
You call me the Way - but you walk me not;
You call me the Truth - but you believe me not;
You call me the Life - but you desire me not;
You call me lovely - but you love me not;
You call me Master - but you serve me not;
If I condemn you, reprove me not.
It is so very often true - And yet is it not a terrible thing that it should be true? How can there be such a hideous gap between the words that come so easily from our lips and the actions of our life-? "Please consider me excused." If we truly worship then we must answer the call to serve. Otherwise we will hear the sorrowful, yet condemning voice, "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)
Let there be no excuses - Let us all come forth.
"Whosoever is a devout lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful bright Festival. And whosoever is a grateful servant, let him rejoice and enter into the joy of his Lord" (From the Easter Catechetical Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom).
Let there be no excuses!