The Great Supper
(This year, the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers falls on Dec 17/30 2007)
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen1
Today is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, which is always celebrated two Sundays before the Nativity. Next Sunday is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, and Nativity follows shortly thereafter on Tuesday. This is part of our preparation for the great feast of our Lord’s incarnation. We have already been preparing by fasting. Now the pace is quickening. You can feel it.
Let us ask ourselves why is it that we have this particular reading, about the Great supper, two Sundays before the Nativity? What is it that the church is trying to teach us, and why do we remember the Holy Forefathers today? It is hard to explore all the aspects of this reading. We cannot but scratch the surface of what this parable means in the Christian life, but it is here primarily because one cannot celebrate a feast without being morally prepared. This parable tells us sins to avoid, attitudes to avoid. It tells us to wake up! It tells us to be ready. We commemorate the Holy Forefathers today, because they indeed were part of the preparation for Christ. Without them, there would have been no God-man, Jesus Christ, because He was born of a woman, who was of their lineage, and, if this is not exactly so in a physical sense2, their prophesies and piety prepared the way for the coming of Christ. That was part of God’s plan. We Orthodox Christians never forget from whence we are come from. We not only remember that we are from the dust of the earth, but we also remember those who have preceded us, and indeed, are joined to us, in piety, and in faith, and in struggle. We never feel disassociated from our history.
I tell you, if you do not take this time today, and in the remaining days to prepare yourself for Nativity, you will MISS it. You may come to church, but you will miss the incarnation. It will not touch you. A man must be prepared for anything that is of value. You must prepare, so that you can inculcate virtue into your hearts, and know what it is that the Lord wants you to know. Now, we prepare not as the world prepares, right? The world prepares with frivolity, and partying. Now, they are already forgetting. I saw a sign on the way to church yesterday, “classes start January seventh”. On the Nativity of our Lord, most are going back to their merchandise, and their business.
There is some background preceding this parable which we must know. The Lord was at a gathering, and discussing theology with Pharisees and such. This parable is in reaction to what a Pharisees has just said. Let’s look hear the verses immediately preceding Jesus’ response.
“Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.”3
This Pharisee made a correct statement, but with an incorrect understanding. He was thinking, blessed is the Jew that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God, and our Lord gave this parable partially to say to him, and all the Jews, “No, Pharisee, it is not just the Jews that will eat bread with me, it is all that will worship me as God. It is all that live according to who I am. Your inheritance is not in your bloodline, but it is in how you live, and how you act, and how you believe.” After all, in another time, just before they were going to crucify Him, what did He say: “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”4 And you know what? I am a stone, you are a stone. The Gentiles are the stones that He would raise up as children to Abraham. Now, in the church, those that have no Abrahamic blood in them outnumber those that are Jews by race.
This parable is much more than an indictment of the misunderstanding of the Pharisee. It is very important to understand this, but even more important, here we see God’s economy,5 His great love for mankind. It is truly awesome, and difficult to speak of, how God loves us so, and how He is so assiduous in His care for us, that we would know Him. Listen carefully, as we go through the short verses of this parable. Listen to the care God is taking in preparing us for the revelation of Himself in us. Then, contrast that with the heedlessness of these people He spoke with, and tremble and learn. See if there is anything in your heart that is like any of these people, and amend yourself. You don’t have much time, I tell you. Your life is but a vapor.6 You have very little time to repent, very little time to inculcate virtue in your heart. Whether you live a hundred more years, or whether you die today, you still have very little time, and this is the period, right now, to especially think on these things, and prepare yourself, so that when God reveals Himself, as He surely will, you will know Him. You won’t miss Him.
“THE LORD SAID THIS PARABLE: A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. “7
Such theology, in one sentence! Such symbolism, such truth, such love. What is this great supper? It is the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and all the implications of that great event. And it is great, because we cannot fathom it. It is the mystery of our salvation, which we cannot understand, but we can be warmed by it, and enlightened by it, and saved by it, even though we don’t completely, and never will completely understand God. It is a supper, not a dinner. I did not understand this distinction until I came to the South. In the North, we considered supper and dinner to be the same meal, but actually, supper indicated the evening meal. The evening meal is Christ coming in the latter times. At a particular time he made the supper, and at supper time He said to His servant, go to them that were bidden.
And Who is this who is that is making the supper? It is God, our Father, who loves us, and desired good things for us. He spreads a table laden with delicacies, and the fatted calf, His own son, for us. Who is this servant? None other than the Lord Jesus Christ, who refers to Himself as a servant, because He was willing to be made in the form of a servant.8 He, being God, despised not becoming man, and becoming a servant, obedient to His father in all things, Who He was completely equal to, as God.
Who are them, that were bidden? In the beginning, these were the Jews. Later, it would be everyone, every man. Did you see that is a double calling? “To say to them that were bidden” – they were already bidden, and He is going out again to call them, and say “Come, all things are made ready”. This call is resounding to us now. It resounds to every man.
We are called in two ways. First of all, every man has the internal law written on his heart. Doesn’t the apostle say this in his epistle to the Romans? It’s written in our hearts9 – every man knows something of God, because God has created Him. And every man reaches our to God because it is natural for the created to reach out to the creator. There is an inner reason that will surely lead a man towards God, if he does not let his sin interfere. It’s built into us.
Now, with this inner condition that predisposes a man towards searching for God, and desiring Him, a man is made ready to hear the Gospel, to hear the preaching and the teaching of the holy church, to see the life of the church, and to be enlightened by every aspect of our life, and to have life in Christ. There are these two callings, and both of them are operating simultaneously in us at all times. The first calling prepares for the second.
“And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come”10
“They all with one consent” – do you know who that was? He was indicting the Jews, and especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, those who with one consent would eventually have him crucified.
And they all made excuses for themselves. These excuses are, in microcosm, the sins that keep a man away from God.
One bought a piece of ground. He was a lover of possessions, He was looking down. He was a lover of earthly things. He was a lover of wealth. Another one had bought five yoke of oxen. The fathers speak of these as indicating the five senses, and a yoke shows they apply equally to everyone, to both sexes, because a yoke holds two oxen.
The senses are a great gift, given to us by God. Our church understands this, because our faith is truly a sensual faith. We feel our faith. We see our faith, in our icons, in the incense, in our liturgics, in our preaching and teaching. We use all of our senses. We taste and see that the Lord is good, literally, as well as in a spiritual way. The senses are given to us for our enlightenment, and to bring God into our hearts. The senses are not evil – far from it - it depends on how one uses the senses. We must be always having this prayer on our lips from the communion prayers, communion prayers: “Purify my soul, sanctify my mind, enlighten the simplicity of my five senses.”11 The senses are good and holy, but when they are used only for pleasure, and the living of our life, then they contribute to our damnation, because they blind us to the one who created the senses.
Another one married a wife, and this is a metaphor for lust, and illicit pleasures in life. Of course, we understand that lawful marriage is a great blessing. “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”12 So it says. Marriage is good, but to be caught up in pleasures is evil. As an aside, I tell you, those that are married, and those that may someday be married, we fast from the flesh sometimes, during the fasts, according to our strength, we fast from martial relations. This is not because in any way that marital relations are sinful, because the bed is undefiled, but in order so that we do not allow any gift that God has given us to control us, and as the Apostle says, to devote ourselves to prayer.13
Pope Gregory the Dialogist has said some marvelous things about this parable in his marvelous sermon, and I must share this with you.
There are two kinds of hunger in the world. There is carnal hunger, a natural hunger. Everyone has it. These sins are all carnal type things, wanting money or wealth, indulging in the pleasures of life, or even in illicit things. Eventually, the indulging in carnal pleasures leads to satiety, and even revulsion. A man who gorges himself with food will eventually pull away from the table, and will not want food for a long time. It is the same , really, with any other kind of pleasure. We get tired of it. We have enough of it.
Spiritual hunger is much different than this. It takes a longer time to develop a palate for spiritual things. The sweetness of the Lord is so sweet, that He is too sweet for us, until we have lived the Christian life for a period of time, and struggles, and then He becomes so sweet that all we want to do is taste of Him. In the beginning, this food appears bland, or even unpalatable to us. We must learn to continually strive to taste of the Lord, to taste of spiritual things, even though they might not appear to us to be so pleasurable compared to the inticements of the world, the flesh pots of Egypt14, shall we say. If we do this, surely the Lord will enlighten us, and He will become sweet to us, and we will want nothing else beside the Lord.
Men barter carnal things over and over for their salvation. An honest man realizes that he does this too, even if only on a small scale. So I tell you again, the clarion bell has sounded, the final preparation for the Nativity. We must make ready. We must consider within ourselves – do we have a field, or a yoke of oxen, or a wife that we are paying more attention to than the Lord? I speak in spiritual terms of course. If we are, is it endangering us, to turn down His invitation? I tell you, these people, who said they did not want to come to the supper did not even know what they were turning down. They were too taken with what they were doing at the moment. They did not know that they were rejecting our Lord permanently.
“So that servant came, and showed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.”15
Here is something great, and something terrible. It is impossible to understand – how much our Lord loves us. He sees that the Jews have rejected Him, and indeed, He sees that many other men have rejected Him, and He is angry, but He is full of love. And He says “go out QUICKLY, with haste in to the streets, the lanes of the city. Go find people that are lost. Go struggle to bring them to me”. And those that are poor, maimed, halt and blind are ourselves, brothers and sisters. We are those things of which the Lord has spoken: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”16 First the Jews, later the Gentiles – behold the great patience of our God, and His care for us.
Now what about these streets, and the lanes? Streets and lanes crisscross and wind, and are hilly, and sometimes are overgrown and rutted. Sometimes they are very hard to negotiate. It is very easy to get lost, and it takes great labor to find your way along them. This is what our Lord did. Didn’t He labor more than all? Didn’t He go onto lanes to find the Samaritan woman? Didn’t He proceed with great effort across a tempestuous sea to free the Gadarene demoniac? Didn’t He free the ten lepers (and yet only one was truly freed)? Didn’t He cure the affliction of the Canaanite woman’s daughter? He sought out and found those that had need, and He gave them all that they needed.
“And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. “17
What is this? Our Lord still cares. Do you see how complete His care is for us? “Go out into the highways” – and where are highways? They are far away from the city. They lead a man FAR AWAY from God, like the prodigal son, far, far away. What of these hedges? Thieves hide in hedges, and wild beasts and snakes, and they are dangerous to a man. Our Lord goes even into the highways and the hedges. He searches every corner of the earth for a man that will believe in Him.
What is this word, “compel”? What an amazing thing our Lord says! “Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled!” After all, in another place, He said that in my Fathers house there are many mansions18. There is room for all, if only all will believe.
But what is this “compelling”? We have free will, and God does not force any man to believe, but love compels a man to act. This compelling is from God caring for us so much that we finally begin to notice. It is from Him becoming incarnate for our sake, living and being born in humble circumstances, having no roof under which to lay His head19, being hated and despised, and finally crucified, and being maligned and slandered and blasphemed by so many. And it is the actions of the Apostles, and the incredible feats of bravery of the martyrs and the saints that COMPEL us to live the Christian life.
When one looks upon these things, one is so filled with awe, if you truly understand it, you MUST live the Christian life! How can you do anything else? It is like a spring that is flowing out of your belly. Didn’t the Lord say that: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”?20 Can you stop the river from flowing down the mountain side? Can you stop the waterfall from falling? It not possible! The water is COMPELLED to fall, and so are we, by God’s incredible love for us. You see the incredible beauty, the profound love of our Savior for us. His love gives us no other option, but to follow Him. But indeed, there are some that don’t follow Him. A tragedy.
“For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. For many are called, but few are chosen.”21
He speaks of the men that are bidden that did not obey the call, and yet, He tried to compel them by showing them goodness, and grace, and mercy. And they did not listen, because they were concerned about their grounds, or their lusts, their pleasures, their pride. They were concerned about everything, save holiness, and sanctity, and blessedness.
These are marvelous words, and they are terrible words! They give us hope that indeed, God will save us, because we see how much He cares. We see how much He pursues us. They also show that we will have no excuse if we do not obey His call, in the end.
Who are those who are called? All mankind is called, every man. Who are the chosen? Those are chosen who obey the call. We can decide if we are of the chosen, or are of the goats on the left hand side. It is our decision, and although the Lord desires top compel us, He will not force us. But, if we live the Christian life with care, we WILL be compelled. It will not be possible for us to do anything but love our Savior and be pleasing to Him.
You must, as Christians, struggle to feel in all ways compelled to love your Savior. In every way. Now, we have a few days left. Let us continue our preparation. Let us hope, that despite our sins, in light of our Savior’s great love for us, that He will enlighten us, that He will make us able to see Him, that He will help us with whatever sins beset us – because I tell you, our sins are trivial compared His mercy. We only need to understand that, we only need to struggle against our sins, and God will help us. Amen.
Old Believer Sermon (unpublished).
The One Thing Needful, Archbishop Andrei
Parables of the Gospel, St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome
Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, St. Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria
Drops From the Living Water, Bishop Augustinos N. Kantiotes
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1 This homily was transcribed from one given On December 16th, 1996 according to the church calendar, being the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, which is always celebrated 2 Sundays before Nativity
There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, “spoken” style.
It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy. In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.
2 The actual progenitors of Christ are commemorated the following Sunday. This is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, which is always the Sunday immediately preceding Nativity. The Gospel reading for this day is from the very beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel.
3 Luke 14:12-15
4 Matthew 3:9
5 Economy is a complex term that indicates God’s action in the world, and His revelation of Himself to mankind. It is also used (and many times misused) to indicate the action of the pastors of the church in applying the canons and all of the Christian law to an individual. For example, “by economy” a bishop may allow a divorce, or second marriage, or lessen the usual epitemia (a period of time, during which a Christian is required to abstain from Communion, and possibly do other things, as part of their therapeutic treatment from their confessor) for a certain sin, such as adultery. It is also used, and grossly misunderstood in may places to allow certain people to enter the church by means of chrismation, rather than baptism and chrismation, because of certain very specialized circumstance that are described in the Holy Canons.
6 Cf. James 4:14 “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
7 Luke 14:16-17
8 Cf. Philippians 2:5-8 “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
9 Cf. Romans 1:14-15 “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another”
10 Luke 14:18-20
11 Prayer of St. Symeon the Translator, from the Prayers after Holy Communion,
12 Hebrews 13:4
13 Cf. 1 Cor 7:5, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”
14 The church has always understood Exodus 16:3, “And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”, to indicate the turning away from God that all mankind does when they pursue their own will and pleasures.
15 Luke 14:21
16 ! Corinthians 1:27
17 Luke 14:22-24
18 Cf. John 14:2 “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
19 Cf. Matthew 8:20 “And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”
20 John 7:38
21 Luke 14:24