14th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this past month has been an extended celebration of the blessings and love of the Mother of God. At the end of last month, we commemorated the Dormition of the Mother of God and then the following week we celebrated the Vladimir Icon. Last week we had the great joy of receiving the myrrh-streaming Hawaii Iveron Icon, and yesterday we celebrated the feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God. What a marvelous succession of feasts to honor our Heavenly Mother – she who cares for us and prays for us before the throne of her Son and our God, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we mentioned yesterday, it is a great mystery that God, He Who cannot be contained, willed to be contained within the frail vessel of the Most Pure Virgin. And this condescension of God toward mankind continues to be offered to us, as He deigns to enter into the temple of our bodies by offering us His Body and Blood, and through the interaction of the Holy Spirit within each human heart.
Our life is lived within this context of the call of God to Mankind… He calls out to us, He wishes to come and abide in us, He stands at the door of our heart and knocks.
Today’s Gospel provides us with a parable of the call of God, illustrated by the wedding feast. A king arranged a marriage for his son. He prepared a great feast and sent his servants out to invite all of their friends and family. But what happened? Those invited were too busy and had endless excuses to not attend. When the king heard this, he struck out at these negligent people and instead went out into the highways to invite anyone who they came upon. He clothed them in wedding garments and brought them into the feast.
God calls out to us… but do we hear Him? Do we respond as we should? The parable of the wedding feast emphasizes to us that God will not force His Kingdom upon us, if we are negligent, if we prefer our selfish interests above the things of Heaven, our will shall not be overruled… we will be passed by. This is a sobering consequence of the freedom that God bestows to us.
And yet, perhaps we may hear the invitation of God our King… We see that among those invited and attending the wedding feast, there was a man who was not properly clothed in the wedding garment. The host called him on it and said “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” And the man was speechless... The king then had him ‘bound hand and foot, taken away, and cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen’.
This passage should cause us to stop and think seriously about what it means to us. The thing is, every encounter with God is a moment of crisis and judgment for the soul… But that does not need to be a cause for despair!
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom wrote following:
“We must recapture an attitude of mind which, usually, we cannot conjure even out of our depth, something which has become strangely alien to us – the joyful expectation of the Day of the Lord – in spite of the fact that we know that His day will be a day of Judgment. It is striking to hear in church that we are proclaiming the Gospel, the gladdening news, of Judgment, but we are proclaiming that the Day of the Lord is not fear but hope and, together with the Holy Spirit, the Church can say: ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!’ As long as we are incapable of speaking in those terms, we are missing something very important in our Christian consciousness. We are still, whatever we may say, pagans dressed up in evangelic garments. We are still people for whom God is a God outside, for whom His coming is darkness and dread, whose judgment is not our redemption but our condemnation, for whom a meeting face to face is a fearful event and not the hour we long and live for.”
There is a great paradox here… for, on the one hand, the thought of the coming of Christ and the Judgment strikes fear and dread in a man. And yet, on the other hand, there is this joyful anticipation and longing for this moment of encounter with our Lord. How can this be?
What does Christ’s Gospel parable tell us today? What was the difference between the one who was cast out and those who were invited into the feast? It was the wedding garment… those who were clothed in the wedding garment celebrated in joy with their king, while he who was not clothed with this garment was sent out.
What is this wedding garment that we are to be wearing when we come to the feast of Christ?
Apostle Paul says in the Epistle for this Sunday: ‘Now He Who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, Who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.’ At your baptism you were anointed with oil and the Holy Spirit was sealed upon with holy chrism and you were donned in a white robe which symbolized the purity of your new birth in Christ. This is the wedding garment of the Heavenly Banquet and it is a garment that we are called to put on daily through prayer, repentance, and selfless love. Every day we are to clothe ourselves with Christ’s compassion, His kindness, His lowliness, His meekness, His patience, His forgiveness, and above all His love, which binds everything in perfect harmony (Col. 3:12-24).
Our great need today is to wrap ourselves up in the grace of God regularly through faith, prayer, reading the Holy Scriptures, the Sacraments and the total relinquishment of our life into God’s hands. The person who daily wraps himself up in the grace of God covers the nakedness of his soul and is ‘clothed’ with a hope that fears neither illness nor death. In the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.’ (Romans 8:35-37).
May this be our prayer! May we be good stewards of the blessings given to us by God. May we hear and heed the generous invitation of God to come to His feast, taking care to wrap ourselves in the garment of salvation through heartfelt prayer, sincere repentance, and selfless love. And may the peace and joy that God gives so generously, dwell in our heart all the days of our lives!