Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homily for the Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)


Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke is often called The Parable of the Great Banquet. In context, in Luke’s Gospel, however, today’s pericope is one of four teachings of Jesus that occur during a single meal at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Throughout that meal, Jesus had occasion to teach about how love is the fulfilling of the Sabbath Law, how humility is a virtue as opposed to the vice of pride, and about the virtue of charity and grace, selfless giving without thought of recognition or compensation.

But, what occasioned our Lord’s teaching in The Parable of the Great Banquet was the exclamation of one of those who sat with Him at the meal: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The man was most likely thinking of the type of banquet that would typically be held by the Jews following a great victory in battle. Many Jews of Jesus’ day held the false belief that the Messiah would be a great king like David who would free Israel from bondage and captivity to the Romans. Even if the man were thinking about a spiritual victory, feast, and kingdom, he was sighing for something he believed to be far off, while the Bread of Heaven Himself sat there before him.

Parables are funny things, they seem so simple on the surface, and yet their meaning eludes and confounds so many, so that seeing, they do not see, and hearing, they do not hear. Often this frustration is expressed “Why doesn’t Jesus just speak plainly? Doesn’t He want people to understand and believe?” Well, of course He wants people to understand and to believe. Nevertheless, He will not force Himself on anyone. Jesus preaches to the Law inscribed on all men’s hearts even while He extends to them the Gospel invitation. Only those who feel the conviction of the Law and drop their facades of pride and self-righteousness will turn in repentance and receive forgiveness and life. Ironically, how often a pastor is told by his parishioners, “You should just preach like Jesus, you know, simple stories, and parables. He was always so clear, a child could understand Him.” Such a comment, however, brings to my mind something one of my seminary professors is still known to regularly say: “You know not the Scriptures or the power therein.” God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the parables were constructed by the Wisdom of God incarnate, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is Wisdom that speaks when Jesus speaks, and the truly wise among men bring nothing to the table but humility and repentance.

The Church’s lectionary has wisely paired the wisdom of Proverbs this day with the wisdom of The Parable of the Great Banquet. Recorded nearly a millennium before the advent of Jesus, our pericope from Proverbs is The Parable of the Great Banquet told in the high form of wisdom literature: Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” In both Proverbs and in the Parable, the great feast is fully prepared and many are invited simply to come, eat, and drink. Yet, how so very many refuse! In the Parable, those who refuse offer worldly and fleshly excuses or justifications. These betray their pride and self-righteousness and expose their false religions and idolatries. In Proverbs, those who refuse are scoffers and wicked men. It is the humble and selfless man who accepts reproving and instruction that is wise and righteous. In accepting reproving and instruction, the wise man becomes wiser still, for, to the one that has, more will be given, and to the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away; for, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Let us now turn directly to the Parable. The “man” is God the Father and the “great banquet” He has prepared is the fulfillment of the Passover Feast in the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. All was fully prepared and “many” were invited to the feast, so God “sent His [Suffering] servant to say to those invited ‘Come, for everything is now ready’. But they all began to make excuses.” One has purchased a field and must attend to it. Another has bought five yoke of oxen and must examine them. And another has married a wife and cannot come. All three excuses sound reasonable enough to fleshly ears and worldly wisdom. In fact, at least two of the excuses were counted as reasonable exceptions to military service in the Old Testament (Deut. 20:6-7). However, this story being a parable, and parables being what they are, there is at the same time a literal and true meaning and a deeper, spiritual meaning. Spiritually, the excuses offered by the three invitees had to do with their preoccupation and love of worldly, physical, and fleshly things over and against the spiritual gifts of God. Here, the Fathers of the Church, especially Augustine and Gregory, offer us insight as to how the early Church understood this parable.

Augustine writes: In the purchase of the farm, the pride of dominion is signified. For to have a farm, to hold it as their possession, to occupy it, to have it subject to them, to rule it, delights men. The first man wished to rule, and wished no one to have dominion over him. And what does having dominion mean but taking delight in one’s own power?

Augustine and Gregory both understand the five yoke of oxen as a symbol for the five senses of man, which also are yoked in pairs: two eyes with which to see, two ears with which to hear, two nostrils with which to smell, a tongue and palate which work together to taste, and a sense of touch, paired in a concealed manner, being both internal and external. The five senses are creaturely and of the earth; they can only perceive what has been made by God and according to God’s own design. Yet, men trust in these creaturely senses and not in their Creator. They will not believe anything unless what they can discover by the fivefold perception of the body. They regard these five senses as the sole norm of their decisions. Such a man was the Apostle Thomas who famously insisted “Unless I see with my eyes and touch with my hands, I will never believe.” Such a man also was the guest at the meal who exclaimed “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Again, this man was sighing for what he believed was far off, while the Bread of Heaven Himself sat there before him. For, it is not what is seen that feeds us, but what is believed. Indeed, what faithlessness and idolatry that our God-created and God-given senses should be loved and trusted more than our Creator and Giver God!

Augustine and Gregory alike also see the man who has taken a wife as a symbol for the desires of the fleshly over and against the spiritual. Augustine summarizes all of the excuses of the invitees, saying “Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

But, are not these the excuses that serve all men who decline to come to the Lord’s Banquet? The invited guests offered these excuses to justify their absence, to justify their refusal to come to the feast that the Lord had prepared for them. And, their excuses demonstrated their belief in their own self-sufficiency, that they had no need of handouts from the Lord. The owner of the farm viewed himself as the owner of his own life, dependent only upon himself and his own works and labor. The owner of the five yoke of oxen, likewise, has made himself the judge of what is real and what is true; but the reality is that man is slave to his senses, created by God, perceiving only what God has created them and allowed them to perceive. It is the Lord who is Truth, not what can be perceived by our God-created and given senses. The man who has married a wife and cannot come is one who is completely enslaved to fleshly desires and passions. For him, the sensations of the flesh have become all important and above the One who created the flesh and its sensations that He might be worshiped and glorified as the Lord and giver of all things.

And, the Master was angry with the invited guests and their excuses. He ordered his servant to bring in those people who were unable to provide for themselves, people like the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. These are set in contrast to the invited guests who made excuses. For, the truth is that the invited guests should have seen that all the material and worldly things that they valued and loved were gifts from God; they should have gone to the Master’s feast out of love, reverence, and thanksgiving. But they refused. For, they did not truly love the master. They believed that their fields, oxen, and marriage were the fruits of their own labors. They did not respect, love, or thank the master for his kindness, grace, and mercy. And, none of those invited, offering their own excuses and justifications, will taste of the Master’s banquet, but even today the invitation is extended to all those pilgrims on the highways and the byways of this world who will receive and not refuse the Lord’s gracious invitation.

For, God the Father’s Suffering Servant has called you by His Word to the Master’s Banquet where He is both Host and Meal. His invitation will not be rescinded, it can only be rejected. All is prepared for you, the finest of meats and the choicest of wines, that you may eat His flesh and drink His blood and live. There is no need to covet dominion, power, and control, for the Lord knows what you need and He willingly and lovingly gives you all things. Must you see and touch, taste, hear, and feel to believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. Nevertheless, the Lord graciously meets you where you are in Word, Bread, Wine, and Water that He might dwell in you, flesh, blood, and Spirit, and you in Him. Have you a spouse to love you and to give you physical comfort and security? They are a gift of God to you that you might have a glimpse of the love and comfort you will find in the Lord. And this feast, at which we recline this day and every Lord’s Day, is but a foretaste of the Feast that is to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end. For, blessed is everyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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