Today we are two Sundays out from Christmas. Every year on this Sunday, the Church remembers the Forefathers of Christ — all the people from the OT that God worked through in order to prepare for His Incarnation. This is beautifully expressed in the Doxological Hymn From the Lauds of Orthros:
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 Children 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.
This vision of preparation actually helps us to interpret and understand the parable from todays Gospel: Luke 14:16-24; Matthew 22:24. It is the parable of the man who prepares a banquet. Upon having his invitations rejected, he sends his servant out into the streets to bring the poor, the lame and the blind. When his table still has room, he sends his servant out to the open roads and the hedges to compel more, so that his table might be full. If we understand the preparation of the banquet to be a metaphor for God’s preparation for the coming of Christ, than we can see the man in this parable as God and the banquet as the Eucharist. Please note: the place where we set and prepare the gifts during the liturgy is called the Table (Tραπέζῃ).
Following through with this metaphor of the Table as the banquet and God as the men giving out invitations, this leaves us with three people that we might be in this metaphor. One: we have the men who refuse the invitation. Two: we have the poor, the blind and the lame. Three: we have the servant who has gone out to the open roads and the hedges.
Before you assume which one of these three you are, listen to the invitation of God spoken through his priests at every liturgy:
With the fear of God, with faith and love draw near!
If you are an Orthodox Christian, this means you. Period. If you are in Church during a liturgy, you have the fear of God, you have faith and you have love. Beyond that, there are no qualifications. Certainly, we are expected to be walking a Christian life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving but how are we supposed to do that on our own without God’s help? That is what we are trying to do, if we don’t approach the cup at liturgy — we are trying to be Christians on our own and by our regulations and judgement, not God’s. Refusing to come to the cup is akin to the lame excuses that the men in the parable give for not coming to the banquet. The land and oxen will be there tomorrow to examine. This is a hospital, where the Body and Blood are not just the richest food available to humanity, but it is also medicine for the greatest diseases that afflict us: death and sin.
This brings us to the second group of people in the parable: the poor, the blind and the lame. This is where most of us are. We are sinners. We are in desperate need of spiritual food and healing. We come to the cup knowing that we are being given Christ Himself — the one who forgives sin, who heals the blind and the lame. When we accept this reality and walk a life that expects to return to this banquet every week miracles happen because God is with us! The fullness of Christ gives us the time for prayer, the strength for fasting and the abundance for almsgiving. We cannot do these things on our own.
This brings us to the last person in this parable that we can aspire to be: the servant. Note what the servant says to his master when he has scoured the streets and the lanes of the city to bring the poor, the blind and the lame:
Sir, what you have commanded has been done and there is still room.
Look around you at the empty seats in church. There is still room. We are now called to get out of our comfort zone and go to the open roads and to the hedges — places where robbers and highwaymen frequent — in order to bring more to the table. As any one who has gone to the Clergy Laity conference of our Metropolis can tell you, one of the best ways we can do this is ministry. The only way this can happen, however, is if we are willing to give of our time, our treasure and our talents.
A ministry can only happen if we make a commitment to make time for it. We all have extremely busy lives, especially those of us who have children. Here in Decatur we are blessed with a plethora of opportunities and activities for children. The only way that we are going to compete with these things is if we choose to. That means our time.
If we are willing to make time for these ministries, we must also be willing to pay for them. We need to know what we can expect to get from our stewards so that we can set a budget. That budget must then include money set aside specifically for ministry. Materials, food, personnel all need to be paid for in order to make ministry happen.
Finally, the priest cannot be expected to do every single ministry the Church does. He is not superman. God has given him certain skills — skills that allow him to be a priest — but that doesn’t necessarily make him the best person to run a nursing program, for example. Every single one of us has talents that need to be brought to bear to make ministry happen. That means volunteering that talent, and possible taking over and doing the entire ministry, reporting to the priest as to how things are going.
Today’s Gospel Reading isn’t entirely from Luke. The Church has made an addendum with Matthew 22:24 which reads:
For many are called, but few are chosen.
There is great irony in this verse. God is doing the calling, but He isn’t doing the choosing. We are. We choose whether or not to come to the banquet. We choose whether or not we will depend upon the Body and Blood to help us heal. We are the one who chose whether or not to go out into the open roads and hedges to bring more to the table.
As we continue to approach the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, let us review our choices. Let us respond to the greatest gift evergiven to humanity by choosing to be a servant — by giving back our time, our treasure and our talents. With the help of God and the prayers of the saints may we see the table full. Amen.