He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” 15 When one of those who sat at table with him heard this, he said to him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17 and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for all is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Revised Standard Version)
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Third Sunday of Heesnag), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
Background of the Parable
This parable can be viewed as a summarized history of salvation: the prophets, the coming of the Messiah, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the Jews, the extended invitation to the Gentiles (non-Jews), and the uniting of the people of God as the Church (the New Israel: see Galatians 6:16). The feast is God’s presence, the Kingdom of Heaven, where we find its fullest expression in the sacred meal of Badarak, in which Jesus unites us to himself and to each other through his own divine life, his holy Body and Blood. The Jews have been waiting for the Kingdom of God and now that it has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, they are beyond skeptical. They have other agendas and pressing matters, or excuses as Jesus expresses in the parable, such as their own honor and positions within society. So Jesus expands the guest list of his Kingdom to those outside the nation of Israel.
Christianity is a Celebration
Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the Christmas season is already upon us. But let’s not forget too quickly what happened on Thanksgiving. We prepared a feast, a party, we invited our loved ones and friends, perhaps even those on the fringe who are alone and forgotten most days of the year. And most importantly, we gave thanks, ultimately to our one Provider, Jesus Christ. Without his love, without his life, nothing good would even exist.
Fortunately, as Christians, and especially as Orthodox Christians, thanksgiving is not just once a year. We celebrate it every time the Church comes together and shares the sacred meal of Badarak. The Creator of the universe prepared a Great Feast, a party for the whole world. Jesus suffered, died, and resurrected, and now shares with us his own divine life through his holy Body and Blood. And as we feast at the Eucharistic table, we give thanks – for everything.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:18)
To describe Christianity is to describe a party, a celebration, a Great Feast of thanksgiving! Our faith is a proclamation of what Christ has already done. The host of the banquet in the parable says, “Come; for all is now ready.” Commenting on this parable, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes,
God the Father has prepared in Christ gifts for the inhabitants of earth. Through Christ, he bestowed the forgiveness of sins, cleansing away of all defilement, communion of the Holy Spirit, glorious adoption as children, and the kingdom of heaven.
The sacred meal that we share in Badarak is not a symbol (in the modern sense of the word), but the actual banquet table of the Kingdom where we share and partake in the divine food of Christ himself. The holy altar is the very table mentioned in this parable. Giving thanks (the meaning of the word Eucharist) is our response to the divine blessings and new life he has given us. But mere attendance at his banquet is not only what God is looking for. He’s looking for participation in a holy life, as the Church, a life celebrated as though we have already been saved and are being saved, a holy family already sharing in his divine blessings.
Come be refreshed, comforted, filled, and transformed with the food of immortality and eternal life. What excuse could possibly compare? And hopefully, look at Badarak in a new way. It’s a party, a celebration of what Jesus has done for us! Let’s sing it joyfully! We can’t imagine recounting all of the blessings God has bestowed on us, as individuals or as a parish community. Think about some of those blessings, and as we do let us loudly sing together,
«Գոհանամք զքէն Տէր որ կերակրեցեր զմեզ յանմահական սեղանոյ քո։ Բաշխելով զմարմինդ եւ զարիւնդ ի փրկութիւն աշխարհի եւ կեանք անձանց մերոց։»
We give thanks to you, Lord, who have fed us at your table of immortal life; distributing your Body and your Blood for the salvation of the world and for life to our souls.
At What Table Do We Dine?
One of the keys to Christian life is knowing for what, or actually, for Whom we are hungry. At the core of who we are and what we were created to be, it is Christ for whom we are hungry, but we make excuses and try to satisfy our desires with earthly, temporary things. We receive Jesus’ invitation to his banquet, and despite our attendance, we reject it – as individuals, as parish communities, and even as a global Church. (Remember: not even we, the Church, are immune to anything the Scriptures teach. All of it is always relevant). Consider how we, perhaps unknowingly, casually treat Jesus’ invitation: do we allow wounds, offenses, divisions, and political opinions to keep us from living a celebrated Christian life? Are we too preoccupied with our own ego and earthly recognition? Do we say no to the Kingdom of God by choosing our gadgets, wealth, financial security, and personal comfort over spiritual health, riches of God, eternal life, and comforting others? Do we choose to ______ (fill in the blank) instead of attending Badarak…and on time? Why is it that we don’t have enough time to feed the poor and minister to others within our own community? What makes us so neurotically busy?
Let’s be honest. We know what the world offers. We read the news. We experience the world on a daily basis, and it’s a dark place. But there is also light, the Light of the world. Life is a wonderful gift, and it’s Christianity that gives meaning to the suffering we read about. Without Christ at the center, at the head of our banquet table, we are left with nothing but our own anxiety, hopeless. We chase meaning and self-worth, but it comes up empty every time. We throw parties to escape reality, and we the Armenian community are no strangers to banquets. But these things never satisfy, because they are only temporary. The Banquet that Jesus talks about is the table where he shares himself, food that is eternal. And it’s something we are invited to in this life.
Are we those whom Jesus is dragging to his Banquet? Human concerns are important, but where do they stand in relation to the love of God and the blessings he has promised us and already accomplished for us? In what other area of our life would we knowingly reject something that is of infinitely greater value over something of lesser, holding only temporal value? Perhaps we don’t really know what the Kingdom of God is, or what God has actually promised and accomplished. Rest assured, we will make excuses over and over, but thankfully, we are always invited back to his banquet. But how can we get past these excuses, as important and practical as they may seem, in order to celebrate at his table, and proclaim and live in the joy of the Lord?
So come to the party! Jesus already set the table. We don’t need to rearrange it, or prepare our own. He’s invited us to the celebration of celebrations! At what table would we rather dine? So come thirsty, come hungry, come poor, miserable, maimed, because God wants to share his healing and riches with us. Let’s celebrate by living as though we have been saved and healed, and bring that healing to others. Let’s live out our baptism, let’s share in the sacred banquet of Badarak, and let’s unite with one another in true, authentic Christian love and hospitality.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matthew 6:33)
Badarak and Charity
What does it mean to “Depart in peace” (Երթայք խաղաղութեամբ) from Badarak? Well, what is it that we do during the week after we have been filled with the sacred meal of Christ’s Body and Blood? Prior to the parable of the Great Feast, Jesus says, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” Jesus connects charity with his banquet. We often forget or ignore the purpose of Badarak, what the Great Banquet nourishes us to do. The presence of God that we experienced and shared, we now share with others. Badarak is not symbolism, it’s not a retelling of history, and it’s not only about the transforming of the bread and wine. It’s the breaking-in of God’s eternal presence through which he changes us into the people he wants us to be, the Body of Christ. If that is true, then we must do what Christ does. When you give a feast, invite the poor, and you will be blessed. And so, Badarak compels us to bring the healing and mercy of Jesus to the world.
Doing charity (voghormootyoon), not just as anyone does it, but in the name of Jesus Christ as the Church (all charity is the mission and work of the Church, whether one realizes it or not) creates a thankful heart and compels us to prayerfully worship and give thanks in Badarak. Conversely, Badarak sustains us in order to be charitable and show compassion to the person in front of us, no matter who it may be, no matter their background or social class. In our own parish, is there a gap between Badarak, the Great Feast, and the life we live, a life of showing mercy? If so, what can we do as individuals and as a community to bridge that gap?
What’s Your Excuse?
We go to Church on Sundays. We are nice to strangers. We donate to charity. We donate to the Church! We attend the occasional mid-week Church event. We work at the annual Church picnic. What else can we do? There’s no time. We have a jobs. We have families. Life demands every minute from us. What more does God want and what more can I possibly give?
Well, do we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ? If the answer is yes, then we need to often consider our priorities and how we use the time we are given in this life. What Jesus wants is to throw a Great Feast, a feast to which we are invited, a feast at which he wants to share his divinity with us, to commune with us. He wants our time. He wants to penetrate every corner and crevice of our life with his holy reign and presence. In other words, he wants our entire being, everything. After all, it is for that reason he created us in the first place. But…
They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’
We can read this and think we are doing well enough. We showed up to the Badarak, the Great Feast. Where is everyone else? Or, we can read this and consider where our heart is really at. And this goes for the saintliest of saints. No one is immune to examining one’s own heart. Do I merely attend Badarak as a spectator, or is my heart in communion with God, despite all of the obstacles and distractions?
The excuses given are not all that bad if we think about it. We would and do give the same excuses today when it comes to serving God in a deeper way and one which may demand more of our time and more of our lives. The first person is an entrepreneur. Any entrepreneur knows when a rare opportunity presents itself, you take it and cancel all other distractions that would get in the way. The second person is similar. Sure, I could spend more time with God, but he will still be there. This deadline, on the other hand, is only there until the end of the week. The last person, how can we blame? Family demands are top priority. What comes before family?
Again, do we consider ourselves to be disciples of Christ? That is our call as baptized Christians, no? Jesus commissions his Disciples to go and make more disciples through baptism:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)
The priest prays over each person being baptized:
Fill your servant with your heavenly gifts and give him/her the joy of being named a Christian.
The demand of disciples of Jesus Christ is much higher than any business transaction or family matter. This does not mean that God doesn’t value such things. It was our Creator who blessed Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” It was also Jesus who said,
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
“Hate” here means to love less. Often we pay lip service to the fact that everything in this world belongs to God, but how much more often do we live as if everything belongs to him except for us? As if our number one priority is our own happiness, protection, and pleasure? Sure, we offer him a part of who we are, but Jesus in the above verse isn’t implying a partial offering. He wants our entire life. In other words, do we offer God rooms in our house, or do we offer him the whole house, which belongs to him anyway?
This is a matter of priority and a matter of quality. Nothing in this world lasts, therefore nothing in this world should be the source or object of our most powerful longing and commitments. When Jesus invites us to commune with him at his Great Feast, he wants to be the One to whom we subject everything else. Can I serve God and have a career? Can I serve God and serve my family? The answer is yes, but but both cannot be first place. There is only room for one master. Jesus tells us,
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)
What do we do in the meantime? We maintain a detachment from this world that is passing away, our eyes fixed on the world that will never end, the Great Feast. What are some practical things we can do to as individuals, as a parish community? We train ourselves, ascetically, to live as though nothing in this world finally matters, so that we are not owned by earthly things, disappointed by them, addicted to them, so we become free to respond to Jesus’ invitation with no obstacle, distraction, or excuse to hold us back from giving him our entire self. How do we manage our time? How much time do we give to prayer? Do we spend more time and effort building our resume than our spiritual maturity? Perhaps we need to limit our intake of entertainment. On what do we spend our money? Why can’t we make the Wednesday night small group, or the community outing to feed the poor? What excuse can we possibly come up with for God?
And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zeb′edee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zeb′edee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20)
We all need to daily confront Jesus’ invitation to the Great Feast, to be his disciple. They left everything, immediately. Perhaps they counted the cost of discipleship later, but they responded to the invitation. When Jesus invites us to celebrate what he has done for us, why would we say no? To what are we attached and need to put in its proper place in relation to God? To whom and for what are we more thankful? We all have excuses? What is yours?