The Orthodox Pages




24th November 2011




























































































































Today our subject for the talk is again the Parables of the Lord. In previous weeks I have tried to pair together parables that were similar or shared something in common. For example we began with the Parable of the Sower which was paired with the Parable of the Weeds. Although two very different parables they both had to do with seeds. Next we saw the Parable of the Talents which was paired with the Parable of the Pound. Again both had to do with money given in trust to the servants of the Lord. And last week we saw two parables that had to do with workers and vineyards. Today, continuing our analysis on the Parables of the Lord, we will look at another two parables which again are very similar, but contain enough differences to be interpreted as separate parables. The parables we will hear are the Parable of the Great Supper and the Parable of the Wedding feast. So let's hear the first of today's parables "The Great supper" taken from the Gospel according to St. Luke.
"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. 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. So that servant came, and shewed 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. 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. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper." (Luke 14:16-24)
This parable is directed against the Jews who believed that because they were the chosen people and descendants of Abraham then this guaranteed them of the promise of salvation. But here Christ wants to correct their misguided delusions and tells them that yes, they have the calling from God to partake of great things, but this calling is not enough in itself, it must also be accepted. The parable shows that those who at first had the privilege and high calling to sit at the great feast with Abraham were eventually completely shut out and others, who were not included in the first calling, are now invited to take part and enjoy the great banquet.
“A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:”
The man in question is God the Father who prepares a great supper which in spiritual terms is referring to the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is an image that this supper was still in the preparation period and was left on hold until the guests who were invited accepted the invitation. The Great supper is so grand, so magnificent that is it possible to satisfy millions of people. It implies the rich spiritual provisions of good things which God has made for the sustenance, the refreshment, the enjoyment and satisfaction of the poor souls in his kingdom. It is called a Supper which is the evening meal because in those days as it is still today, the evening was the ideal time for a great feast when people finished work and were able to relax, but also because the full enjoyment of the good things of grace in heaven are reserved for the chosen and given to them at end of the day of their earthly life.
Many were invited, in other words the twelve Tribes of Israel. They from among all the nations of the world were invited because they were a people special to God. The many can refer to everyone, but in reality it is only for the people of Israel, because this invitation represents all and every historic occasion of the divine calling to the Israelites. But this calling is also directed to every man and woman which the intention of establishing everyone as eternally blessed. The calling is identified with man’s calling to be holy because blessed and holy is one and the same thing. And this calling of God does not come about by some miracle or by some audible voice from heaven that we hear with our ears, but partly by the outward circumstances in our daily life, our acquaintances, our relationships, by reading or hearing something and something similar to these things and also partly from the interior state and disposition of our mind, our heart and our conscience and by some mystical voice in the depth of our heart where we hear God echoing the words “come, everything is ready”. What then awaits us if we also start to make stupid and unfounded excuses that we cannot come? None of those people invited shall taste of my supper.
“And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.”
His servant represents all those that God sent to his people and especially John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, who as St. Paul says “took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), and was sent to the Jews calling them through the Gospel to the eternal enjoyment. The hour of our calling by grace is appointed. “Come; for all things are now ready.” Behold Now is the day of our salvation. There are no extensions no prolonging even for a little while for as we are told, everything is ready. Come and do not postpone. Accept the invitation. If we close our ears and play deaf, the opportunity will pass us by and we will be eternally cut off from the pleasures of the heavenly supper. There can be no excuses for not being ready. Preparation was made to all on earth by God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we have already been given many good things: forgiveness of sins, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and adoption as sons and heirs of the Kingdom of God. Christ has sent out the invitations through his Gospel and the Church. The Preparation therefore has been made and there can be no more delay for the Great Supper.
“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.”
They were all of one opinion and one mind; they were not prepared spiritually to accept the invitation so made excuses to be released from what must have been a burden. We can even say that there was a conspiracy for everyone to make excuses. In human terms their reasons for being excused may seem plausible, but they lack seriousness. They only show the bad intentions of those invited. They were informed beforehand of this coming day and should have prepared. They should have put their businesses in order so that any other obligations would be done on any other day. In General these excuses represent all those things that distract us from leading a spiritual life: the care of worldly things like our work, our property, money, wife, children and everything else that take up most of our time that we leave no room to think of God or what will happen to us when we die. They also represent the various passions that people don’t want to be deprived of, thus they ignore the message of the Gospel for the enjoyment of this earthly life. People who have their hearts full of worldly cares have deaf ears so as not to hear the Gospel invitation.
In the case of the first excuse of having bought a piece of land and has to go and see it, this is an obvious exaggeration: he must have seen the land beforehand to then decide to buy it. Thus he could have postponed the new visit for another time. But one more thing is noticeably in his answer: he does not say Please have me excused, neither as in the King James “I pray thee have me excused” but as in the Greek “I ask you to have be excused” which lacks the respect of a polite answer.
“And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused”.
Five yoke of oxen must have been a fairly large buy. This man doesn’t use the pretext of the first man of being a necessity to go and see them and in fact shows that he couldn’t care less whether his excuse is convincing or not. It is worth noting that neither of the two are portrayed as acting illegal in any way. They are neither thieves nor crooks but obtained their possessions legally. But these possessions are shown that they become obstacles for the spiritual life and the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom when man’s heart becomes attached to them.
“And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”
This third excuse is the strongest of the three because the excuse is based on the canons of worldly life and the young man is saying that he is prepared for the great supper, but according to the Law of Moses he cannot come. He is convinced that his excuse is indisputable. It is probably based on the law found in Deuteronomy which says: “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5) Thus his excuse is that he must first fulfil his God-given duty to his wife and then he will be free to attend to other things. This excuse shows the absorption of our time from family pleasures and comforts. Exaggerated attachment to our family can be an obstacle for us not fulfilling our duty to God. Christ also said: “He that loveth father or mother, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)
Adam’s excuse was “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” (Gen. 3:12) Here the new groom is saying: “My wife is obstructing me from eating” but he could have attended the great supper accompanied by his wife, because surely they were both invited.
“So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things.”
The servant didn’t need to give an account of the negative answers, they were already known to God, but it is used to give a continuance to the parable and also because in earthly terms we would expect for a messenger on returning to give an account of the things for which he was sent to do.
“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.”
The ingratitude of those invited and their contempt for God, for the Gospel and everything that he has done for them justly arouses God’s anger against them. The Supper is ready and cannot be postponed any longer, thus he tells his servant to go out quickly, not because his anger makes him impatient, but because he wants to put a stop to any more delays and possibly so that those invited might not have the time to change their minds. They had their change but turned it down, now they are cut off indefinitely.
The streets and lanes of the city refer to the public places where are usually found those without a descent home over their head. The poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind who gather where there are many people to beg for a living. Those who declined to accept the invitation were the High priests, the scribes and Pharisees and all those who had a high standing and were honoured by the people. Now it was the turn of those who were considered as outcasts of the city to be invited. But be careful that you understand that they were not invited to take the place of those who declined the invitation. They were not invited just to fill up the empty spaces. They would have been invited even if the others hadn’t declined: they also lived in the city and were also Jews and descendants of Abraham. Out of respect for their position the high priests and those who studied the law were invited first, and once they had taken their seats then everyone else would have been invited. Here it is worth noting that he doesn’t invite the merchants and the publicans, in other words the tax collectors, because they too would have been too absorbed in their businesses that their answer would have been like the first three “I ask thee to have me excused”.
“And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.”
The good things of the kingdom where not prepared in vain. Yes, we see that there were many that rejected the kingdom of God, but there were also a great many that with gratitude accepted. Even among the Jews, not all the high priests and scribes rejected to become members of the church. Many rejected the law and were cursed by their people and they became to them as the gentiles. But in God’s kingdom even the gentiles are invited. The “yet there is room” is to draw our attention to the following verse which is the order to the servant to go and extend his invitation to the gentiles and other nations and to all the world.
“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.”
So now out of the city, out of Jerusalem and after the calling of the chosen people we see the calling of the gentiles. Compel them to come in does not mean to bring them in by force, but rather to compel them to put aside their false gods and bring them to faith of the one true God. Compel could also refer to men who want to enter, but hesitate through fear and cowardice that they might be rejected. The Lord seeing their hesitation orders his servant to compel them with persuasion to enter without fear. Persuade them to enter because God’s house is roomy enough for everyone and must be filled. And this will come about when the number of those invited is accomplished and when everyone who has been given to the Lord enters into it.
“For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. For many be called, but few chosen.”
“None of these men” of course refers to all those that spurned and declined his invitation: The Jews who were not convinced of who Christ was and is, and all those who because of the cares of this world have left no room in their hearts for him to enter and give them a foretaste of the good things that await the believer in the kingdom of God.
Let's now hear the second parable – "The Wedding Feast" taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen." (St Matthew 22:2-14)
The same Great feast mentioned in the first parable is now portrayed as a Wedding feast. Our participation in the kingdom of God after the Second Coming and the General Resurrection from the dead is likened to a wedding feast because in worldly terms there is no greater love than when a bride and groom give themselves totally to each other. It is an event filled with great joy and merriment with everyone invited taking part in the celebrations. We see the same symbolism of marriage in the parable of the ten virgins who wait for the bridegroom to come in the middle of the night. In the Gospels Christ calls himself the Bridegroom, as in the passage where he tells the disciples of St. John the Baptist that the children of the bridechamber cannot mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them, but the days will come when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then they will fast. The fathers often describe our life on earth as the betrothal between ourselves and Christ and the future life as the fulfilment of this betrothal in a marriage union with God.
But if Christ is the bridegroom who is the bride? The bride is the Church and the wedding feast is the participation of the Church in the Body and Blood of Christ which we partake of even in this life. But if you remember our talks from last year on the interpretation of the Liturgy, you will remember that the Divine Liturgy transcends our earthly time, the Church ascends to heaven and we find ourselves with Christ after the Second Coming and partaking of the Wedding banquet.
The parable begins with a certain king who made a marriage for his son. In the original Greek the word marriage is in the plural, in other words. the certain king made marriages for his son. It does not mean the son was being married to many wives. but refers to the marriage customs of the time which consisted of a seven day celebration. In our times seven days of eating, drinking and dancing to celebrate a wedding is socially unheard of, but if we go back fifty or sixty years, a three day celebration was the normal practice in Cyprus. My own parents who married in 1954 had a three day event so if we go back further in time a seven day celebration is very feasible especially if we consider that most people didn't have a nine to five job, but were agricultural farmers which allowed them certain periods of rest.
In the parable the king refers to God the Father and the Son refers to Christ. The first servants sent forth to call the wedding guests are the prophets and the guests are the people of Israel. Notice that it says the servants were sent forth to call them that were bidden to the wedding. The prophets were not sent out with invitations to the wedding, but to remind the people of the invitation which had been sent out some many years earlier so that they would have enough time to prepare for this great event. But those invited showed contempt and indifference to the royal invitation and refused to go. Their refusal to attend the wedding was a direct insult against the king, but the king being good hearted and compassionate excused the guests, who perhaps delayed on account of some misunderstanding. The forgiving king doesn't want those invited to miss out on the wedding feast so he sends out other servants to again call them to the feast. This time the servants sent forth are to tell the people "Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage." The oxen and fatlings and all things are used to describe the splendour of the feast that no extravagance has been spared. In spiritual terms they refer to the good things of grace that await us in the future age. The two lots of servants reminds us of last weeks "Parable of the Wicked Servants" where God sent the first group of prophets who were beaten and killed and then the second group of prophets who received the same fate. In this parable the second group of servants probably doesn't refer to prophets, but to the Apostles, the first Christian preachers. How this is derived we will see very shortly.
Again the reminder to attend the Wedding feast is completely disregarded and one went to his farm and another to his merchandise. One was preoccupied with his land and real estate while the other was preoccupied with getting rich through trading. Whatever their occupation they were both slaves to their passion and glued to earthly and temporal things. But worse than these were the remnant that remained and who took the Lord's servants; entreated them spitefully, and slew them. They showed how spiteful and wicked they were. It wasn't enough that they had showed contempt by refusing the Lord's invitation, they added injury to insult by slaying God's ambassadors who were simply messengers. Their error offended the king's dignity, who, able to endure no more, sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Here we see why the second group of servants is most probably referring to the Apostles, because the destruction of the city is an event which took place after most of the apostles had been spitefully ill-treated and murdered.

The army sent forth to destroy the murderers and burn their city is not a legion of angels as we might suppose. Christ is prophetically telling his listeners of the future destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army. In 68AD after Nero's suicidal death, Vespasian was declared Emperor. As a general Vespasian had been sent to Jerusalem two years earlier to restore order after the Jews of Judea rebelled against their Roman masters. Now as Emperor and the army led by his son Titus, Vespasian returned in 70 AD and ransacked Jerusalem slaughtering thousands and enslaving many more thousands who were sent to work in the mines of Egypt or were dispersed to arenas throughout the Empire to be butchered for the amusement of the public. The Temple was burnt and destroyed while the sacred relics were taken to Rome where they were displayed in celebration of the victory. In the parable the Lord calls the Roman army "his armies" because everything created belongs to the Lord and because the Lord used them as the instrument that would fulfil his will.
The Lord then said to his servants: "The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage." The wedding is ready and it will not be postponed on account of the unthankfulness of those invited. Because the Jews refused Christ they refused the kingdom and lost their right to partake of the Wedding Feast. But the king wanted to share his feast with his subjects so he ordered his servants to go out into the highways and invite everyone to the marriage whom they would meet, without distinction. As with the previous parable the highways is a reference to the calling of the Gentiles to become members of the Church of Christ. The servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. It says that both bad and good were gathered together because the Church as a spiritual hospital calls and accepts everyone. It is not for the servants to judge who is worthy and who is not, this is the prerogative of God alone. The servants were entrusted only with the job of inviting whoever they found and to bring them to the Wedding, if they came willingly. That they were all present at the heavenly banquet means that they were all Christians, but there are Christians who are only Christians by name and never work for their salvation and then there are true Christians who having heard the Gospel of Christ accept it into their hearts and work for their salvation.
The Wedding venue is now full of guests and the king comes out to see those present, but he saw something that upset him: "he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment" and said to him: :Friend, how did you come in without a wedding garment.
To understand why the king was upset we need to understand the Jewish customs of those times. When someone was invited to a wedding he had to come with the proper festive garments, but if he didn't have his own the householder provided the garments for his guests which were obtained from the steward of the house on entry. Anyone who refused to put on such a garment showed contempt for the master of the house. In spiritual terms the entry of the king is the day of judgement where the works of everyone will be manifest for all to see. The wedding garment is the same garment we receive at baptism. One of the petitions during the baptism service says: "That he/she may preserve the garment of baptism, and the earnest of the Spirit undefiled and blameless in the fearful day of Christ our God, let us pray unto the Lord." In another of the baptismal prayers it says: "preserve in him/her the garment of incorruption, which he/she has put on, spotless and undefiled." The garment we put on is Christ himself and as St Paul says: "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." This garment we must preserve spotless throughout our lives by our way of life and good works. The wedding garment is the proper spiritual condition of the soul and if we stain it with a sinful life then it will no longer resemble a bright wedding garment but dirty rags. Only by living a life in Christ will our wedding garment shine bright as we sing during Holy Week: "I see Thy bridal chamber all adorned, O my Saviour, but I have no wedding garment so that I may enter in. Make bright the vesture of my soul, O Giver of light, and save me."
St. Theophan the Recluse says: "Live in such a way, that the God of love will love thee with eternal love. Go forth to thy commerce, but watch, so as not to sell thy soul to the world through the acquisition of worldly goods. Go forth to thy fields, fertilize thy land, and sow seed in it, so that with its fruits thou mayest strengthen thy body; but especially sow the fruits of eternal life in the field. Preserve the garment received in Holy Baptism pure and spotless until the end of thy life, that thou mayest be a worthy partaker of the heavenly bridal chamber, wherein enter only those who have a pure garment and burning lamps in their hands."
In the parable Christ calls the man with no wedding garment "Friend". I read somewhere that when Christ called him friend he said this ironically. I don't think that on such a serious matter of someone being cast out of the kingdom that Christ would speak ironically and mockingly. Christ is love and his love for all people would never allow him to act this way. Christ called him friend because he was a baptized Christian and through baptism a friendship was formed with Christ. Christ did not forget this friendship, but rather the man neglected and violated this friendship through sin.
When the king asked the man what he was doing there without the proper attire, the man remained speechless. He was speechless because he had no excuse to justify himself; his garments testified that he had lived a life of depravity, thus in reality he passed sentence on himself. Through his way of life he was found unworthy to sit at the table and enjoy the wedding feast and was bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness. The binding of the hands and feet refers to the fact that in this life the feet walk towards sin and the hands act out the sin, but in the after life all these actions will come to an end and there will be no more sinful actions. The hands and feet will be bound and will no longer be able to participate in sin. The outer darkness means outside of the Messiah's royal palace where the divine light brilliantly shines and bathes everything within. In this place of darkness there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But we should not assume that this is hell. It is only a place deprived of God's light whereas hell is a place of hellfire prepared for the devil and his angels, but some people will also join them. There are therefore two places of punishment: one in outer darkness and the other in hellfire, but in both places there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
As a last thought, of all the good and bad people who entered the king's palace for the wedding feast only one man was judged as not having a wedding garment. There is no mention of the other bad people or those somewhere in between good and bad. Can we therefore take comfort and thank our lucky stars that only one person stood out and can we assume that most of us will probably be sitting at the king's table? That of course would only be wishful thinking. The last verse of the parable puts the dampers on our wishful expectations. For many are called, but few are chosen. Everyone is invited to the wedding feast, but only a few will actually accept it and attain the necessary entry qualifications. Also the person in the parable who did not have the wedding garment is not a single person, but a representation of a whole group of people.