Which one of you would miss out on a free invitation for two weeks to a five-star resort in the Maldives for your family and favourite friends, where all the great people that you wished to meet would be, and all your needs would be taken care of? Which one of us would reject such a great opportunity?
Most of us would not reject it. We would make time and come up with creative excuses to fit it into our busy schedule. Probably nine out of ten of us would take it up gladly.
This parable exemplifies God calling all of us into His glorious kingdom. We are given the greatest opportunity of all, the highest offer. We are all invited to the banquet of God, to rejoice with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet we make excuses? A rich man invites and the poor hasten to come?
Our Lord, in this parable, condemns the dullness and insensitivity of those privileged guests who made excuses, they symbolise the baptised people. They showed to be unworthy of the heavenly banquet and thus in their blindness deny themselves the true life.
This ‘certain man’ in the Lord’s parable represents God the Father. When God wishes to express mercy in the Bible, He is called by the name ‘man’. Therefore, the Creator of the universe and the Father of glory made a great supper, a festival for the whole world, in honour of Christ. In the last times of the world and at our world’s setting, the Son rose for us. At this time, he suffered death for our sakes and gave us to eat his flesh, the bread from heaven that gives life to the world.
Christ, the Son of God, in His transfiguration has shined upon us, and enduring death for our sakes, has given us His own body to eat as spiritual nutrients, when He instituted the Holy Eucharist in the Last Supper meal. It is not only the physical elements of the Holy Eucharist that we eat, but we are also called to feast on the Word, through His spiritual teaching.
Rightly then was the banquet which was prepared in Christ called a supper (and every Divine Liturgy that we celebrate, is this supper), having prepared for us the full enjoyment of eternal spiritual sweetness with Him, from now.
The ‘servant’, who was sent in the parable, is Christ Himself, who being by nature fully God and the true Son of God by nature fully human, in one person as Jesus Christ (Theanthropos), took the form of a servant. He was sent at suppertime because it was not in the beginning of time that God the Word took upon Himself our nature and revealed Himself to us, but in the end times when everything had been prepared by God (we are historically in the end times). Hence the passage states, ‘Come, for all things are now ready’. The ‘supper now being ready’, means that Christ has been sacrificed and has resurrected our human nature from the bonds of death, to an eternal life of transformation. This is our salvation. He has become our Passover meal and the cause for our Passover celebration as experienced in the Divine Liturgy.
God the Father has prepared once and for all, the good things bestowed upon the world through Christ (the head of the Church). These are: the removal of sins; the participation of the Holy Spirit; and the glory of being adopted as sons; ‘where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all’ (Col 3:11). To this Christ calls us by the spiritual teaching of the Gospel and Holy Tradition.
Our Lord wished to give us what we should hope for and what the deepest essence of our being hopes for. Yet as we have been told in this parable, all of those people invited began at once to make ‘worldly excuses’.
The first person said: ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it’ (Lk 14:18). The piece of ground here denotes our worldly possessions, the pride of life and the competitive jealousy that comes with governing these assets (our houses, our investments, our holiday houses, new car etc). This person wished to feel like a ruler over these material things and not to have a master, these possessions were a hindrance to their humility, which is required to approach the magnitude of the invitation by God.
The second person said: ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen and I’m going to test them’ (Lk 14:19). The five yoke of oxen represent our five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) – these senses are the eye of the physical body where we engage with creation, they are stimulated only with what is external to our body. Through these senses of the flesh, earthly things are pursued. Therefore they represent the lusts of the eye: evil desires, uncleanness, passion – this person said: ‘I’m going to test them’, meaning, the curiosity of our senses (e.g. overindulging and feeding the senses with all the entertainment in the world – concerts, casino, pokies, TV, Video games, theatre, movies, shopping, dinners, holidays, parties, dates, social flirtation). Thus, this person represents those who merely follow the things of the senses, and neglect the spiritual senses, the things of God in one’s heart.
The third person said: ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’ (Lk 14:20). This person represents those who take pleasure in the delights of the flesh, the lusts of the flesh (fornication), which hinders many.
According to St Isaac the Syrian, if a person does not know first what the ‘world’ is, one will never come to know with how many of one’s members (the body and soul) one is distant from the world, and with how many one is bound to it.
The term ‘world’ is a collective noun (‘worldly’ is the adjective derivative) which is applied by the fathers of the Church to the so-called passions. When the fathers wish to give a collective name to the passions, they call them ‘world’. When they designate them specifically according to their names, they call them ‘passions’.
The passions are portions of the course of the world’s onward flow; and where the passions cease, there the world’s onward flow stands still. The onward flow is a movement away from the inner flow and doxology of the heart, that is, not living life from a prayerful heart. These are the passions: love of wealth; gathering objects of any kind; bodily pleasure, from which comes the passion of carnal intercourse; love of esteem, from which springs envy; the wielding of power; pride in the trappings of authority; stateliness and pomposity; human glory, which is the cause of resentment; and fear for the body (c.f Col 3:5-9).
According to St Isaac the Syrian, wherever these have halted in their course, there, in part, to the extent that the passions are inactive, the ‘world’ fails from its constitution and remains inactive. Thus it was with each of the saints, that while they lived, they were dead to the ‘world’. For living in the body, they lived not according to the ‘mind of flesh’, but rather they lived according to the ‘mind of the heart’. In the spiritual life of a Christian, we are expected to examine in which of these passions we are alive, and then we will know in how many parts we are alive to the world, and in how many we are dead. When we learn what the world is, by distinguishing these matters we will also come to know our entanglement in the world as well as our freedom from it.
Hence, a person’s elevation above the world can be recognised from these two things: from the good transformation of one’s way of life and from a discernment of one’s thoughts. As we read in this parable, Christ did not condemn the privileged guests for having to attend to their ongoing busy duties of life. He simply disapproves their poor choice and lack of discernment in their life due to their uncontrolled passions and ignorance of their spiritual state. Their passionate attachment to their duties was a cause for them to lose their participation into the Kingdom of God, which Christ does not want to happen to people. Orthodox Christians should know better since they have been baptised in Christ and they should attend to the call of Christ Who is in their heart (c.f Col 3:12-17).
The privileged guest’s problem was that they refused to put the love of God first and foremost in their lives.They had insisted on keeping their worldly endeavours first on their list of priorities. Thus, the privileged guests represent those who neglect or avoid the spiritual life in Christ, because they have become servants to the physical and transient things of the ‘world’.
The guests also represent those who don’t dedicate any time for God or their soul. Clearly, these three guests were making cheap excuses from not participating in the divine life of the gospel teaching.
So, in all three examples we see that the elevated desires of the human body, when it is not mastered (i.e. put to death), but allowed to be darkened and controlled by the worldly pleasures, is too weak in attending to the things of God (God’s invitation into the knowledge and participation of the Spiritual life, the higher realities and truths of our existence).
None of these three invited guests had any desire for fellowship. They failed to realise that the invitation is from God the Father to His children, and such ‘worldly’ excuses are the sins that keep us away from God.
The privileged guests also represent ‘the worldly folk’ who are smugly secure, resting in their comfortable inertia, complacent, self reliant, self-sufficient, self-satisfied and enjoying the delights of their lavish and abundant lifestyle. We see that ‘worldly possessions’ proved to be a great obstacle to them responding positively to Jesus and hence to their spiritual growth in their call to faith and transformation. These people could not ‘let go’, could not see the shallowness, the transient hollowness of the possessions which they enjoyed and were attached to. They succumbed to the subtle call of ‘material things’. There seems to be an inherent tendency in people to be drawn by the seductive lure of the power, pleasure, and security that are the by-products of being wealthy.
So, since the worldly rich folk are too busy to attend God’s invitation into His Kingdom, He invites the poor, the blind and the weak. ‘The master of the house…said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind’ (Lk 14:21). God invites these people to show that weakness of the body or the death of our members shuts no-one out from the Kingdom of Heaven. It also indicates the paradoxical effect of being humbled by a sickness, or voluntarily humbling oneself out of love for God, since in weakness we are strong as we lack the incentive to sin against the will of God; so therefore we must become ‘poor and dead’ to the ‘world’, in the spiritual sense, mentioned earlier.
A lack of attachment to material possessions, being ‘poor’, facilitates a wholehearted response to God’s gift of mercy and love. The very lack of the need of resources become a blessing, since they leave people free and disposed to accept the enriching good news of salvation. It is also a spiritual exercise of our dependence on God and therefore a test of our faith.
Because of the proud being so entangled by, so preoccupied with their acquisitions (property and wife), they are deaf to the call and refuse to come and the poor are chosen. The poor, experiencing the Father’s love and providential care, possess the Kingdom now. The proud sinners are rejected and the humble sinners are chosen. God chooses those whom the world despises because the very act of being ridiculed and humbled by the world, recalls us to ourselves, makes us real, makes us humble and ‘down to earth’. In weakness we are strong because we truly recognise more vividly our dependence only on God, and so the weak and humble person, in God’s eyes, is so much more receptive and quicker to hear the voice of God calling us into His kingdom since we have nothing in this world to take pleasure in and distract us from the will of God, the true way of life.
This passage also teaches us what humility means, putting away any form of idolatry: not to depend on material things, anyone else, nor on ourselves, but to constantly look to and remember Him who created everything including ourselves. So, humility means obeying the will of God through: the teaching of the Gospel, and as taught by Holy Tradition, through the living witness and teaching of the saints. You can have all the riches that this country offers, and here in this country we are, thank God, rich according to our worldly and earthy needs. We must however learn to be detached from these pleasures of life. Renunciation of material goods becomes a fundamental dimension of the Christian life. It does not have meaning in itself, but only in relation to the Kingdom.
This does not mean not to enjoy material things with a thankful heart, but to know how to use them in a way that pleases God. It means to put God first before anything else.
Jesus answered him: “The first of all commandments is; ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There are not other commandments greater than these” (Mk 12:28).
Therefore, let us not make any excuses, especially from an undue concern and attachment to our transient “things”, and foolishly oppose these commandments, because through these commandments God invites us to the banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven, with our neighbour.
Dear friends we see in this parable that the great banquet represents the Holy Communion, the master of the banquet is God Himself, the servant is the priest and the privileged invited guests are those baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity, but do not cultivate this spiritually rich gift. The poor and lame represent the rest of the world and are called to come close to God, close to Holy Communion and their salvation in the One Church.
In the gift of our baptism we put on Christ – His resurrected Body, but we must nurture our spiritual body with God’s food (spiritual food) to develop it, so that we may become fully human and experience from now the unique way God intended us to be. Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven is Christ, with His Church His Body, participating in His divine life, eating and living with Him and growing from glory to glory. This is our true life. St Paul said: ‘For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory’ (Col 3:3-4). Our purpose for being created was to know our Creator in a personal way, to eat and speak with Him, to live closely with Him, to admire what he does and to pursue His perfect example, since He is our Archetype and we are created in His image.
This heavenly banquet is realised in the Mystery of Holy Communion. It is the heart of the Church’s life, served and offered to the faithful by the grace of God every time we celebrate together the Divine Liturgy. It is at the same time a personal and communal doxology and entry into the kingdom of God, which is eternal life in Christ.
This banquet is a rich meal that our Lord God provides for us within the framework of His mystical body, the Church. No one can attend such a great banquet unless one follows their calling wholeheartedly and comes to it with complete and consistent faith.
How distressing is it when one rejects an invitation from above, because of our poor self guidance and lack of discernment. What a catastrophe it can be when self centeredness leaves us no time for God and self examination?
And so I say again, we are all invited to the banquet of God, to rejoice with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet we make excuses? A rich man invites and the poor hasten to come?
A Christ-loving layperson sent a question to Abba John about some matter, and was given an answer: “Pass over with your thoughts from this vain world to another age. Leave the worldly, and long for the heavenly. Abandon the corruptible, and you shall find the incorruptible. In your mind, flee from the temporary, and you shall arrive at the eternal. Die completely, that you may live completely in Christ Jesus, to whom be glory to the ages”.
 St Isaac the Syrian, On Thankfulness of God, In Which There Are Also Essential Elementary Lessons: Homily Two, p 10-15.
 Barsanuphius and John, Leave the world and long for the heavenly: Letters from the Desert, Translated by John Chyssavgis (NY: SVSP, 2003), 69.