I’ve entitled this reflection “A Dinner Party to Remember”, because the setting of the Gospel that we read on this Sunday of the Forefathers takes place around the dinner table. Jesus was a guest at a Sabbath meal with various Pharisees, Lawyers, and other Jewish leaders who were still trying to get a sense of Who This Man was Who was performing miracles and preaching with such authority. At this meal, our Lord gives some very profound directives on how we are supposed to conduct ourselves, not only at dinner parties, but also in everyday life.
The first thing Jesus noticed was how all of the invited guests were coming into the feast and jockeying for the best seat in the house. They wanted to sit near the people of prominence to bend their ear, or maybe be closest to the buffet line, etc. Our Lord rebukes them by saying:
“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit in the best place, lest one more honorable come, and they say to you: “Give your place to this man,” and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher”, then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you…For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Whether it is a wedding party and where we are sitting, or in our conversations with family and friends, or even standing here in the middle of the Divine Liturgy…every moment in our lives carries within it an opportunity to practice humility. Every second allotted to us is a chance to practice putting others above yourself.
Look at the wonderful Saint who we remembered last week! St. Nicholas was one that took the words of Christ to the next level and is now remembered and endeared by billions of people throughout the centuries! We don’t remember St. Nicholas for any eloquent speeches or writings, but rather for the numerous examples of putting the needs of others above himself!
When St. Nicholas was a young man, he came from a very wealthy background. He never had to worry about money, or food, or clothing, and he had the ability to live comfortably for his entire life without lifting a finger! But when he began his ministry in the Church, we hear how he gave everything he had to the poor. And just so there isn’t any confusion on this part, the Synaxarion (the written lives of the Saints) doubles down on the very next sentence and says: “he kept NOTHING for himself.” This wasn’t just a 10% tithe, or half of his possessions, St. Nicholas gave it all away in a sign of humility and radical virtue, so that there was nothing that could distract him from seeking after God.
Back to our “dinner party to remember”, after our Lord continued to speak about humility and charity, there was a man at the dinner table who shouted: “Blessed is He who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God!” This man wanted to be one of the people at this feast that was doing the right things, and this leads us to Jesus’s famous parable about the wedding feast.
Jesus speaks about a King who sent out his servants to tell those who were invited that the wedding feast was now ready. This was a big deal! The King himself invites you to this wedding feast! You get to eat at the table of the most important person in the Kingdom! But despite this great honor, the invitees find all sorts of excuses for not attending: “I bought some land; I have to go check it out. I bought some oxen; I have to go test them out. I married a wife and I can’t come.” The King’s response was to send out new invitations to those who were not originally invited. The poor, the lame, and the blind. He bid them all to come for the Feast was ready. After that, He reached out to those who were on the highways and hedges and compelled them to come in so that the house would be filled!
This parable is an easy one to understand. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees at the dinner party, reminding them that they were the original invitees to this marriage feast by God the King throughout the centuries, but they developed other priorities that caused them to reject that invitation. Then Christ came, and it was the sinners (the lame, the sick, the blind) who were invited and who came into the feast ahead of the Pharisees. When there was still room, the invitation went out into the highways and hedges (out into the rest of the world) so that the kingdom would be filled.
Jesus ends the parable with a very powerful reminder, not only for those at this dinner party where he was preaching, but for each and every one of us here today: “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” The pharisees invitation has been tore up, because when it came, they rejected it.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, all of us here today have received that very same invitation to the Kingdom, to a life with Christ, and to a marriage feast with the King. It is an incredible opportunity that lies before us, and we are given a warning as we get closer to the Nativity of Christ, that if we want to be one of the people who comes into the Kingdom, we need to act NOW. The invitation is in our hands.
St. Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians says: “Behold NOW is the accepted time; behold NOW is the day of salvation!” Not tomorrow…not when I have time…right now. This Divine Liturgy…listening to THIS Gospel Text…reflecting on THIS moment…because for some of us, there might not be a tomorrow.
The time for preparation is slowly coming to an end in this period of Advent. The cocktail hour is over, the doors of the banquet hall are opening, and we all now make our way to sit at the Divine Table of the Feast which begins in under two short weeks. May we all have the common sense put aside all other cares of this life and to accept the invite of which the King of Kings has so richly poured out on us!