Sermon delivered December 29, 2019 by Archimandrite Maximos
The king has called us to a great feast. He called out, he prepared a beautiful, overwhelming feast; imagine that scene: The finest banquet hall, decorated in the most beautiful possible way; every good and tasty thing, plates of gold, cups encrusted with jewels; this amazing, perfect feast. And he sends his messenger and his friends out to people who are called, and we hear in the Gospel, they, with one consent, began to give excuses. The first man said, “Well, I have land, and things I have to do, so I can’t come.” And the second one said he bought five yoke of oxen, and he had to prove them, so he could not come. And the third one said simply, “I have a wife”—and that seemed to be a sufficient answer—”so I cannot come.”
It says in the Gospel this lord, this king, was angry because he had prepared this great feast. So he sent his messenger out first to the cities, and he invited people; and they came. Then it wasn’t enough, so he invited the halt, the maimed, the withered, the bent, all these people. And then we’re told, we’re given the words at the end, “many are called, but few are chosen.” Many are called, dear brothers and sisters. We are called. We know that. We have been called to this great feast. We’ve been called to this Feast of all possible good things; that’s what the Lord has prepared for us; that’s what He has in store for us. All good things. Every good thing that can be, He will give to us in this paradise, in this heavenly Jerusalem. Yet with one consent, we make these excuses.
We have to examine why in our own lives, when we are called to the Feast, which symbolically represents the Church . . . we come up with justifications why we would prefer to be doing anything else but standing in the presence of our Lord and King.
If we examine the particular excuses in order, we can see that they’re all concerning perpetuating daily, normal human existence— land, animals, wife. They’re all about this world. They’re all about continuing in this world; they’re also all about being in control. When you go to the feast, you’re not the master of the feast; the king is the master of the feast. You are part of his household. These individuals in varying circumstances want to maintain their control: the man tilling his ground, the other man controlling his oxen, and the other man ruling over his wife.
We have to examine why in our own lives, in our own particular circumstances, when we are called to the Feast, which symbolically represents the Church, the things of the next world, the things that are heavenly and not merely earthly—when we are called on all the time, daily, hourly, momentarily—with one consent we make excuses. We come up with justifications why we would prefer to be doing anything else but standing in the presence of our Lord and King. That’s not a question I can answer for you individually; each of you has to make that examination yourself. But we have to do it; it needs to be done. You have to decide what you will do. Will you do what is necessary for that determination of being chosen? You are certainly called. Everyone’s called, but you have to do those things to be chosen; you have to do those things to make yourself worthy.
The spiritual life is only difficult when we consider it something extra that you don’t really have to do . . . this is not the case. The heavenly things are our inheritance; they are the reason for our being; they are why we are created.
In a similar parable, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, the people are called and they don’t have on their wedding garment, and so they’re cast out (Matt. 22:1-14). And traditionally it’s understood that the master of the house provides the wedding garment; you simply have to put it on. We’re in exactly the same situation in our relationship with our King, in our summons to the glorious Feast. We are given everything. We’re given the garment. We simply have to put it on. It’s not difficult to put on. The spiritual life is only difficult when we consider it something extra that you don’t really have to do. All you really have to do is plow your land, prove your oxen, and deal with your family, and then everything else is an additional effort, so it doesn’t seem necessary. We are told here today, brothers and sisters, it’s made clear to us today, that this is not the case. The Feast is our purpose; that is what we are called to participate in. The heavenly things are our inheritance; they are the reason for our being; they are why we are created.
The Lord, it says in this parable, was angry, because He prepared this great Feast. His glory will be manifest; we will see this festal hall. Will we enter into it? Will we sit down at the table and feast on what the Lord has prepared for us? That is in our hands. We make that decision moment to moment, day to day, minute to minute. We make that decision when we’re confronted with simple things. The first most obvious symbol is going to Church. What we are participating in here, in a real way, is that same glorious Feast. It’s the same one as in the parable. We’re called on to participate, so that’s the first thing. Are we going to do those things in the course of our life to prepare ourselves?
Make yourself a fit participant in this Great Feast of the Incarnation in the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, which is a transformation on a cosmic level. We can allow that transformation to change our lives. . . .
We heard in the Epistle about avoiding fornication, evil speaking, adultery, all these things. These are the necessary putting on of that wedding garment that we’re called to do to make ourselves fit and appropriate to sit at the table before the Lord, and eat what He has prepared for us. This is our sole vocation; everything else we do is secondary. Everything else we do is some form of those first three things, of taking care of land, of proving the oxen, and dealing with family. The Church doesn’t say those are not necessary things, those are not good things—we don’t say that. But we say those are inferior things. Our culture has tended to amplify the importance of the mundane and completely eliminate the importance of the spiritual.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, where we celebrate all the Old Testament figures who struggled before the coming of the Lord; it is one of the last two Sundays before Nativity. We have been fasting, we have been preparing, we have been invited to participate in it, so I encourage everyone, if they have not struggled, if they have not made themselves worthy, if they have not taken the Fast seriously to this point, begin so today. Make yourself a fit participant in this Great Feast of the Incarnation in the flesh of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, which is a transformation on a cosmic level.
We can allow that transformation to change our lives, or we can just go through the motions. That’s always an option—just sort of going through the motions, smiling, nodding; make a cake, eat a cake, and then just move on—just one of many other days. Dear brothers and sisters, don’t do that. Take this invitation seriously. It’s not mythical, it is real. The Lord of the universe, the Creator of being, has given this request, this invitation, to come and dine with Him. It’s in our hands whether we accept or we simply make excuses and go about our daily lives.