This Sunday is the eleventh Sunday of Luke, also known as Sunday of the Forefathers (Ancestors) of Christ. This commemoration falls before the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in which we remember all the righteous fathers of the Old Testament; beginning with Abraham, and through to all the prophets of the Old Testament who prepared for and prophesied the coming of Christ (Messiah), the Saviour.
The Gospel reading from St. Luke (14:16-24) recounts the Parable of the “Great Banquet” or Great Supper, told by Jesus after he was invited to “the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on the Sabbath, to eat bread,” (14:1). We reflect on the context of this invitation, as the Pharisees were watching Him closely. The parable acts as a warning for them, and for us, reminding us not to “sit in the first place”, followed by instructions on hospitality and humility. Christ says to his hosts and the congregation; “when you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, … lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind”. (14:13-14)
This parable acts as a response to the following comment made by another sitting at the table: “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God”. In his commentary on this, St Gregory the Theologian says that “this man is carnal, and a careless hearer of the things which Christ delivers, and not able to understand correctly what Christ spoke, for he thought the reward of the saints was to be bodily”.
The parable begins with the Lord saying: “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘come, for everything is now ready.’” Some of the Holy Fathers (like Cyril of Alexandria) see in this certain man a symbol of God the Father, who sent His only-begotten Son, who, according to the Apostle Paul, “evacuated himself by taking the image of a slave in the likeness of people” (Phil. 2:7). The image is clearer in this parable according to the Evangelist Matthew (22:1-14), likening this man to a “king” who organises a wedding for his son (Matthew 22:1). This is a metaphor for God sending His only Son to invite His people to salvation.
This noble man had prepared a supper and sent his servant to say to the guests: “Come, for all things are now ready”. One may expect this a difficult invitation to reject, but we read on with bewilderment as the invitees “all with one accord began to make excuses”. Every one of them apologised for not being able to attend, citing different reasons and justifications, but we can see that they are all the same. St Basil the Great reflects on our own excuses to attend the banquet of God; “but they cannot come because the human mind when it is degenerating to worldly pleasures, is feeble in attending to the things of God”.
The Lord Jesus has summarised these human interests which become the excuses, as the following: the one who bought a field, the one who has five pairs of cows, and the man who is married to a woman and therefore cannot attend. These three examples essentially encapsulate all human excuses and interests.
St. Gregory the Theologian explains these interests as follows: First, he who bought the field is the man who has the passion of possession; the Pharisees and the scribes who “were so intent on their farms (their worldly possessions), that they had neither time nor inclination to think about of their souls and their salvation”.
The second, the one who bought five pairs of cows; “what are we to understand by the five yoke of oxen but the five senses? Which are rightly called yokes, because they are double in the two sexes” (Homily 35 on St Luke). These senses are an important gift from God and give us the potential to communicate and make sense of the outside world, but when they are subjected to lust and passion, they deviate from their natural purpose and become servants of the evil one.
We should not mistake the third, who is married, as an insult to marriage, which is a sacred mystery, but “what are we to understand by a wife but carnal gratifications?”. (Gregory the Theologian).
St. John the Evangelist in his first letter, writes: “Do not love the world or the things in the world, because all that is in the world; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn 2:15-16). Here we can see the link between the human interests of the invitees, and these three types of lusts mentioned by the Evangelist John. The first represents lust for pride, i.e. the love of acquiring worldly possessions, while the second indicates lust of the eyes, where the senses deviate from their original purpose, and the third represents the lust of the flesh and the satisfaction of its desires.
After the guests had rejected the invitation, the Lord sent his servant saying: “Quickly, take to the streets of the city and its allies and bring the poor, the old, the blind and the limp to here.” The Lord preceded to declare to those who were dining with him, “If you make a celebration, call the poor, the old and the blind.”
St. Paul says: “God chose the ignorant of the world to shame the wise and chose the weak to shame the powerful” (1 Cor. 1:27-28). The invitees, from the elite to the Pharisees, the scribes, who had the knowledge of Scriptures, and the high priests refused Jesus’ call, consequently, the call addressed the tax collectors, the adulterers and the sinners, as “the tax collectors and the sinners precede you to the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 21:31) and “many who are first are last and many who are last are first” (Matthew 19-30). The servant eventually returned to say to his master: “What thou have ordered has been done and remains more places.” The Lord replied, “Go out to the roads and boundaries and insist that they should come; have them enter until the house is full.”
God’s goodness was poured out also upon the Gentiles. for those who are in the highways and hedges means the Gentiles. St. Basil the Great says: “By highways He signifies the Gentiles’ coarse way of life, which led them to so many false beliefs. By hedges He signifies their life of sins. for sin is a great hedge and middle wall which separates us from God”.
Christ’s request of “force them to come in until my house is full” of course is not intended in coercion, but instead reflects the master’s firm determination to complete His invitation, and if the initial invitees refuse, the master is not discouraged from sending his invitation to others, to those from the outside, those who form the legion of outcasts. The Master says in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will supper with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
The Lord God, from the Old Testament to the New Testament and to this day, uses various methods and means to call upon mankind to be saved because “He wants everyone to be saved and to come to know the truth to be accepted” (1 Timothy 2:4).
The last verse of this Gospel, “the invitees are many but the chosen are few”, has been added to the passage from Matthew (22:14) to complete the meaning of the text.
The Holy Church has seen in this parable a symbol of the ‘Heavenly Banquet” mentioned in the Book of Revelation, where the angel says to the Evangelist John: “Write, blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). This heavenly invitation is the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the participating in the holy Body and precious Blood of the Lord.
It is the feast of faith, echoed in the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom; writing: “Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. Honour the day, the table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. Enjoy ye all the feast of faith, Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.”
God sent His only-begotten Son, the incarnated Word of God, who gave His life on the Cross for the salvation of the world, and He is “The Offered and the Receiver, the Recipient and the Distributed”, who gave us His pure body and His precious blood, which is laid for the life of the world. For that, “today when you hear His voice do not harden your hearts”. (Hebrews 3:15)
Let us take the initiative of the One who invited us to this Heavenly Banquet so that we may become the participants of Eternal life and the Heavenly Kingdom.