This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 14, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: Luke 14:16-24
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. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. . . .
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.
It is with a great many struggles that we receive our salvation. Notice I did not say achieve salvation, I said receive it. We cannot achieve salvation, we cannot earn it. We could work our entire lives, we could be as holy as we can possibly be, we could give all that we have for the poor and for the kingdom of God, and it would not earn us a place in God’s eternal heaven. You cannot achieve salvation, but you can receive it. And to receive it requires struggles.
There was a group of beggars, emaciated, thin, wasting away, nearly starving, in the center of this great city. And this rich man had compassion, and he came to see them, and he saw how hungry they were. And he said,
“I have a great gift for you. There’s no way in your condition that you could possibly work hard enough to earn it, but I will give it to you freely. But I want to know that you value this gift. I want to know that you appreciate it. I’m going to give you a lifetime supply of food, all you can eat. It’s all good food, and you will never ever hunger again.”
And you could just see their mouths watering. They were so excited! They were about to maul him, just coming to thank him. But he said,
“You cannot earn this food, but there is a condition. There is a struggle that you must endure to receive it. See, two and a half miles from the city center, by the old railroad tracks, there is this little shack, and you must travel from here to there. And at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, you meet me there on-time. And because you have taken this difficult journey, I will give you this free gift. You can’t earn it, but you are going to have to go through some struggles to receive it.”
And then the rich man jumped into a cab and took off.
And immediately, a few of these very hungry people, with great joy and a bounce in their step, proceeded to start walking that two and a half miles through the heat of the city, looking forward to arriving at the shack by evening. They were planning to sleep on the ground under a tree wherever they could find, and they were going to be there on-time.
But most of the beggars did not joyfully go off with a bounce in their step. Many of them stayed behind. They begin to talk, and to grumble, and to complain. Some of them complained about the journey itself, about geography, about the location. “Well here we are, and there it is, and do you really trust this man? I mean, do you really, I mean–we are just going to go through all this work for nothing. We might as well just forget it. We’re going to get there and there’s going to be nothing there anyway. So let’s just stay here.”
Others thought the food would be there, but they just thought, “Man, that’s a lot of work!” “You know, I’m on a cane, I’ve got a bum knee, and it’d take me twice as long to go that as anybody else. I mean, well, sure, you’ve got good legs, you can go two and a half miles–sure–but for me that’d be like going five because I’m walking on this cane. So, you know what? I’m not going to go.”
There are a couple more that say, “Well, you know, we want to go, and we would go, but we just got these little stray dogs that we just adopted, and we found out that if you’re a beggar in the city, you get more gifts–you get more alms–if you’ve got a cute little puppy with you, while you are holding your sign. And so, you know, we’ve got to clean the dog up, we have stuff we need to do, we’ll take care of this, and we’ll–maybe we’ll go there later. You know, we’re not going to do it now, though.”
This other guy, he wanted to go, but his wife wouldn’t let him. She said, “I’m not going, and you’re not going.” So he said, “Well, I want to go. I would go. I mean, it would be really nice to have a lifetime supply of food. But we’ve got a little bit to eat, and I don’t wanna upset my spouse.”
Then there were a few fellows that said, “We would really like to go. This would be wonderful if we could go. But we’ve got our stuff. I mean, we don’t have many possessions, but here in this alley, in these cardboard boxes, we’ve got a few of our possessions, our things. And if we were to go two and a half miles away, I mean, that might as well be the other side of the world. Surely our stuff would be stolen by the time we got back, so we’re not going to go.”
And the rich man was incredulous, just amazed.
That next morning at nine o’clock he opens up the doors to that little shack, and there are only two or three men standing outside. And just as he had promised, he gave them a great supply of food. He also took their pictures and made up little ID cards, and said, “Look, you present this card at any time in the future, at this particular store, and they will give you whatever you need, free of charge. For the rest of your life, your food is taken care of.”
So he kept his word. He kept his promise.
And he packed up all of his things, and he went off to the next city.
And then there were some stragglers. There were people that finally decided to make the trip. But they showed up at noon, they showed up in the evening, they showed up two or three days later, and all they found was just an empty shack, and the railroad track. The man was not there. He had gone off to some other city. And all the food that they would have received went to somebody else. They were not willing to struggle for their salvation.
And sure enough, a great famine, a great food shortage hit this city that very same year. And the only beggars that survived were those that had taken up the man on his offer, and had struggled for their salvation. All those who had despised the gift, all of those who were not willing to work, to struggle to receive the gift, starved to death–a very slow and painful death–that very same year.
Our salvation is like this.
There is nothing you can do to earn it.
There is no amount of work that you can do to deserve it.
But God forbid should you be one of those people who despise the gift!
You’ll find your gift eventually is not yours anymore,
but it has been given to somebody else, and you will be left to starve.
Jesus tells this parable of this great man who gives a feast. And some of the people showed up. But there were many, many who did not show up at all because they made excuses.
“Oh, I can’t come because, well, you know, I’ve got this new piece of land, and it’s just a lot of work to farm, and you know how it is.”
“Well, I would come to your feast, but I just got these new animals, and you know oxen are really expensive, and they do my plowing work and transportation, and there’s just–I just–I’ve got too much work to do with them. Maybe another time.”
“Oh, well, I would come, Master. I would come to your feast! But I just got married. I’ve got this wife, this spouse. You know how it is.”
They all make excuses. And so the Master–in this parable that Jesus tells–He doesn’t take His feast to them and spoon-feed them forcefully. No! They despise the gift, so they do not receive the gift. And He invites the halt, the maimed, the poor, the lame, the blind. He invites those from the hedges, He compels them to come in, He makes sure that His house is full. And as it says in Scripture, He sees to it that none of those who are originally invited are going to taste His supper.
Obviously, the initial context is the Pharisees, those to whom He was speaking. Those first invited were the Jews. It says in Romans that the Gospel is for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But the vast majority of the Jews despised the gift, they would not accept Jesus as the Messiah. So the Gospel then was taken to you, to me, to us Gentiles. We who are not Jews, we who were strangers to the covenant, we are brought in near, and by the blood of Christ we have been made co-heirs with those who were looking for the Messiah and did recognize Him.
What are these excuses that people make? I think it’s very interesting if we spend some time and look at these excuses. You see, it would be one thing if it was wicked, evil things that they wanted to do. But this parable does not show some men saying, “Well, we want to go gambling, and getting drunk, and then we want to go see some prostitutes. So we’re not coming to your supper.” “Well, we want to go kill some people, so we’re not coming to your supper.” That’s not what you see here. All of the excuses that they make are not wicked, they are not evil. They are good things, they are sensible things.
If God blesses you with a piece of land, with acres of land to take care of and to work, should you not work that land? Should you not take care of it, should you not plow it, should you not do all that you can to make that land fruitful? That’s a good and noble thing.
If God blesses you with five yoke of oxen, do you realize how many thousands of dollars that would be in today’s economy? Now see, back then they didn’t have John Deere tractors. So if you have land, those oxen are the ones that are going to help you help you plow that land. They are your work vehicles. You could also use oxen to pull carts that you could sit in. So the oxen themselves could be your “Ford”, your “Chevy”, your transportation. We are talking about great monetary value here, great value for work, great value for transportation. And if you end up with too many of them, oxen make really good steaks, really good burgers, so they can even be a very good and rich source of food. So isn’t it good to take care of these oxen, to feed them, to train them, to make sure that they are going to do what you want them to do? Isn’t that a wise and noble thing to do?Absolutely.
Well, what about marriage? Doesn’t Scripture uphold marriage as very important? And if this guy just married this woman, isn’t that a really good reason to go on a honeymoon? Isn’t that a really good reason to focus on her, and to have her focus on him, and for them to build their budding new relationship? Absolutely. In fact, in the Old Testament, it was put forth that a newly married man should be relieved for any kind of military duty for a full year, so that he could stay home and “cheer up his wife” (is the way it’s spoken in Hebrew). I don’t think they were telling jokes to each other, but Scripture really looks at marriage as something important, something to be nurtured, something you spend time with.
So we look at these three excuses. And when we start looking at them, we say, “Well, wait a minute! They are not going gambling and drinking and carousing. This is good, they are working the land! They are taking care of their work animals. They are nurturing their marriage.” These are good and noble and wonderful things. Jesus does not chide them for valuing these good things. Jesus is angry with them because they value those things more than they value the kingdom.
Have you ever heard the saying that the good can become the enemy of the best? Jesus is saying, “Yes, the land, your possessions, your location, your geography, where you are–it’s very important. But the kingdom of God is more important. Turn your back on your land, and come and follow Me.”
Yes, oxen are fantastic. God created them. They are good for work, they are good for transportation, they are good for food. But the kingdom of God is far more important. Turn your back on the oxen, and come to the feast.
Yes, marriage is wonderful. Marriage was created as a picture of Christ and the Church. And because it is created as a picture of Christ and the Church, it would be a travesty if you focused on the picture and neglected the reality, if you nurtured your marriage to the neglect of Christ and His Church.
Jesus, in this parable, is not saying that we should value the kingdom of God more than sinful pleasures. That’s not the point of this parable. Jesus is telling us that we need to value salvation, and we need to value the kingdom of God, more than all of His good gifts, like marriage, and land, and possessions.
We already expect that there will be a lot of people who miss heaven, and have to endure the pains of hell, because they have spent their lives on careless, selfish pursuits. They pursued sinful pleasures. They have hurt people. They have murdered. They have been immoral. But what some of us are not careful enough to realize is that there will also be some very fine, upstanding citizens who become the denizens of hell.
You will find there are some husbands who loved their wives more than they loved the Church, and their God. You will find there are some mothers who loved their children more than they loved Christ and His Church. You will find there are some very hard working men and women who love their careers, their job, their possessions, their things, more than they value the body and the blood of Christ.
Remember what Jesus says to these people who made excuses. At the end of this parable, He says, “None of them will taste my supper.” He didn’t say you’d get less of it. He didn’t say you’ll eat later. He said you will taste none of it. That’s exclusion. That’s being driven out. That’s the outer darkness. That’s the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. That is hell.
To value the good, godly, wonderful things of this life, more than you value God, is to choose hell. That should be very, very sobering to all of us.
And in the wisdom of God, look at who does taste the feast. Look at who does come in. I love this! It’s the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind. Do you see what Jesus is doing? These weren’t random choices. He didn’t just say, “Ah, just go pick some people and bring them in.” No, He said, “Bring in the poor and the halt, the maimed and the blind.”
If you own land, you are not poor.
If you own five yoke of oxen, you are not poor.
You have the means to come to the supper.
But look at what Jesus is doing, He’s saying,
“Those who are so poor they can’t afford to build buildings for the Church and do great gifts for the Church and do all these different things, they will just come and they will taste My feast.”
Those who are halt–they can’t even walk to get to My feast–they want to come so badly that they find a way to get there. They hobble up to My feast. If they got two pennies in their cup from begging, they gave up those two pennies–not for food–but to pay somebody to carry them and bring them so that they could come to My feast.”
“The blind, they [initially] couldn’t even figure out how to get to the feast, but they still figured out a way. They got here!”
The maimed–you have either seen them in-person or in the movies, the people that have their legs chopped off, you know the Vietnam veterans, these type of people–a lot of them are beggars. There’s no job that they can find to work, and they are on a little skateboard or whatever, and they are trying to push themselves around and hold up cardboard signs, begging for food.
Let me ask you, if it’s a good excuse to miss out on the feast because you are working the land, isn’t it a better excuse to miss out on the feast because you don’t have legs? You can’t move, you can’t walk.
If it’s a good excuse to miss the feast because you have these very valuable oxen that you need to train, and they are your livelihood, isn’t it a far better excuse to miss the feast because you’re so poor that you don’t own oxen? Because you’re halt–which means you’re hobbling or you can’t even walk at all?
If it’s a good excuse to miss the feast because of family, because you just married this woman and you want to focus on your marriage, isn’t it a better excuse to miss the feast because you’re blind and you can’t even walk ten feet without banging your head into a wall?
Look at what Jesus is doing, in His wisdom. He is saying,
“All of you that think you have a good excuse, are going to be judged by the fact that those who have better excuses than you do, are swarming into the kingdom ahead of you.”
“You refused to come because you couldn’t get a ride. This man has no legs, and yet he is coming to My feast.”
“You refused to come to My feast, because you had family business to attend to. Yet this man has no eyes, can’t even see where he’s going, and he found a way to get here.”
“You would not come to My feast, because you had this land–this plot of ground–that you were taking care of. And yet these people that are so poor that they can’t even buy a plot of land, are here.”
And so it is in the kingdom of God. We know that there are struggles that we must endure if we are going to receive salvation. There are some people that have to drive an hour and a half one-way, just to be at liturgy Sunday morning, so that they can take the body and blood of Christ. There are people who have horrible sicknesses, where they are sick to their stomach, or they have headaches, or all different kinds of issues that make it very difficult. And yet they show up, and they are here. And they come to God’s Church, whether it’s here, whether it’s in San Francisco, whether it’s in New York–worldwide. These people come to take the Eucharist.
And yet sometimes a person will travel and hour to go to Church. And because there’s a little bit of snow on the ground, or because it’s raining, there are [other] people in-town that won’t come a mile or two to attend the service.
There are people that work two jobs, three jobs, and put in eighty to a hundred hours a week, and they are exhausted. And then they will come, and they will worship, and they will take the Eucharist, and they will make sure that they are in the presence of God, that they are partaking of His body and blood. And sometimes they will do this, and there are other people that will miss coming, because, “Aww, well, you know, I had some stuff to do. My dad needed some help working on the car, and it was Sunday morning, and I needed to go get a load of hay, and I needed to work on this, I needed to work on that, so I didn’t come.”
Anytime we make an excuse like that, we are saying, “This other thing is more important than God. This other thing is more important then my salvation. My physical discomfort is more important than my salvation. The distance I have to drive is more important than my salvation. Helping my dad load the hay and fix the car is more important than my salvation.”
“The trouble at home–my husband, my wife–I just know they are going to chew me out later because they hate it that I’m here. They hate it that I want to have anything to do with God. So I’m just not going to go.” Well, you’re saying, “My marriage is more important than my salvation.”
Later in the same passage of Scripture is where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, he who does not hate his own mother, father, spouse, child, is not worthy of me” (Luke 14:26; Matthew 10:37). Now, is Jesus calling for hate? Is Jesus calling for us to hurt other people? Absolutely not. He is saying this: that your love for God should be so much stronger, that your love for anything else and anybody else looks like hate by comparison.
We all know, cover to cover in Scripture, God calls us to love. So yes, please love your wife, love your children, love your families. But let your love for Christ burn so much hotter, that no one else even comes close. Let your running toward the kingdom, your grasping for salvation, be so strong that nothing else can compete with that. Not your desire for realationships, not your desire for money, not your desire for career, not your desire for entertainment or pleasure, let none of those things stand in the way. For if we esteem those things as being more important than our salvation–being in the body of Christ, worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ, partaking of His body and blood, doing the things that the Church calls on us to do, the fasts, the daily prayers, the honest living of our lives in an Orthodox way, 24/7, regardless of where we are, regardless of what time it is, regardless of how frustrating our circumstances may be–if we are not willing to do that, then we are being just like the beggars who turned down the food because “two and a half miles was just to far to walk” and “it’s too hot” and “people are picking on me.”
Be like the first beggars. Be like the ones who walk out with a smile on their face, a joy, and a bounce in their step, thrilled that they could go to so little effort and receive a gift that is so great.
Because I will tell you this, as we all know, it is not about the justice. If each one of us received what we actually deserved for our sins, then you would receive far more physical pain and suffering and ailments then you do now. You would receive far more frustrations then you already do. You would be ostracized and cutoff from relationships far more than you already are. Every suffering that you have experienced in your life–I don’t care how badly you been hurt, abused, sick, roll it all into a ball–that’s a tiny fraction of what you actually deserve to receive for your sins. That’s a tiny fraction of what I deserve to receive for my sins.
So the very fact that you have suffered so little, is the grace of God in your life. And so, instead of complaining about that which we have suffered, we need to show gratefulness and thankfulness to God for the mercy He has shown us, and for the infinitely greater mercy that He has shown us in opening up the path to salvation, which we cannot earn. But we do need to struggle for salvation.
Let us struggle diligently, let us struggle daily, and let us do it with joy, because it is a great salvation He has called us to.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,our God is One. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 14, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.