Rejecting the Invitation

Many are preparing hard for our annual Greek Festival next weekend. This past week we had dozens of workers at the church - some trying to finish up part of our renovation project, while our parishioners set up the tent and starting to do the baking. This week we’ll have many more every day setting up the tent, baking the pastries, preparing the lamb and shish-ka-bab, and getting everything ready for another wonderful festival. And of course, I’m always amazed to see how many of our parishioners come out on our Festival Weekend to help make it a great time. How many of us are excited for the upcoming weekend and are ready to welcome the thousand people coming to our Festival?

Well, with all our preparations, imagine what would happen if next Saturday, nobody showed up?!? More specifically, what would happen if those we expected, all those we invited to come, didn’t show up? How would we feel? What would we think?

We would surely experience many different emotions, including disappointment, shock, and even anger. Why didn’t they come? They knew they were invited. They understood how much work we put into this Festival. Why did they ignore our invitation?!?

Think carefully how you would feel if everyone ignored our Festival, and then think about how angry you would be if this wasn’t just a Festival, but a bigger event, like the wedding of your child. All the preparations for a wedding, only to have the invited guests not show up. That is what the story in today’s Gospel lesson is all about. Jesus tells a parable about a king who arranged a marriage for his son. All was ready, the kingly feast was set, and yet one by one, the guests made excuses about why they couldn’t come.

“The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy” (Matthew 22:8)

What a harsh saying for Jesus to say to someone  - “those who were invited were not worthy.” How could such a thing happen? Why would our Lord, who “desires every person to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth,” warn people he loves so much in such a stern and severe manner

We often preach and talk about God in terms of an all-loving, compassionate, all-merciful and all-forgiving Father – and He is! Our Lord is divine love incarnate – love itself. God is ready to give us a second, third, fifth, tenth and even a hundredth chance when we make mistakes and fall into sin and turn against Him. Yet this same loving Savior, who longs for our salvation and union with Him, realizes that no matter how much He loves us, unless our hearts are open to His love, we ourselves may miss out on His grace. In other words, no matter what God desires, we ourselves can turn away from the kingdom of God, we can make ourselves unworthy.

In a previous, similar parable, Jesus warns that the Kingdom of God will be taken from us and given to other people bearing the fruits of His Kingdom, He is cautioning us that our choices –the way we choose to live out our lives, either opens us up, or closes us off, from the Kingdom of God.

I often think of the life of Christ, and love to read how the Gospels portray our Lord in such a compassionate and merciful way. A woman who had been married to five men and who was living with her sixth man found Jesus forgiving and merciful. A thief who cheated many people and lived a corrupt life was invited by Christ to become one of his disciples. A woman caught in the act of adultery and ready to be stoned to death by religious authorities is given a new chance and a new beginning by our Lord. A prodigal son who despises his father, abandons his home, and wastes his inheritance is welcomed back, without any trace of bitterness or anger. Even the fanatical persecutor Paul is forgiven for his hatred of Christians and given a new opportunity to serve our Savior.

Our Lord was always ready to reach out to those desperate and down and in despair, no matter how evil and sinful their actions had been. He was always ready to offer a second chance for a new life. That is, He offers a second chance as long as the sinners were open to Him, and ready to turn away from their evil ways. People received a new life when they chose to walk in the light of God’s Kingdom. “Go, and sin no more” would often be Christ’s final words, and this admonition reminded people that a change in life was needed to experience the kingdom of heaven.

The only group of people to whom Christ seemed extremely harsh were to people who self-assured and even self-righteous; to those filled with pride, thinking so well of themselves; to those who were quick to judge and condemn others, while not looking at their own shortcomings and faults; to people who couldn’t forgive others or didn’t want to give people second chances; to those who didn’t practice or live lives of mercy and grace. Jesus sharply criticized such people by calling them hypocrites and vipers, snakes and white-washed tombs.

When Jesus says “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to other people bearing the fruits of His Kingdom,” He is warning us that if we choose to live with a spirit contrary to His loving, merciful, compassionate and grace-filled spirit, than the Kingdom of God will also elude us. When we choose to live with self-assured pride, we close the door to the Kingdom of heaven. When we choose to live with bitterness and anger and hatred, unwilling to forgive or reconcile with others, we close the door to the Kingdom of God. When we choose to live with a judgmental attitude towards others, ignoring Christ’s call to love unconditionally, then we close the door to the Kingdom of God.

Our Lord doesn’t desire to take the kingdom of God away from us, but he clearly warns us that this will happen, if we don’t imitate His way of life and walk according to His precepts. “Enter by the narrow gate,” Jesus admonishes, “for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. But narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

The superficial way of the world, the way of hatred and bitterness and anger and spite, the way of jealousy and envy and covetousness, the way of greed and violence,  the way of pride and arrogance and self-righteousness, the way of self-centered pleasure and egocentric fulfillment, the way so common in the world is a broad and wide path that leads to destruction. Many may take it, Jesus warns, but unfortunately, those who choose such a life are also choosing to close the door on the Kingdom of heaven.

Narrow and difficult is the way of unconditional love, of mercy and forgiveness, of self-denial and self-restraint, of compassion and grace. Few cultivate the spirit that nourishes these virtues and thus, few will walk the path that leads into the Kingdom of God.

People like to hear about how loving and merciful and kind God is. And yet, in today’s Gospel, it is quite clear that Jesus wanted his listeners to realize that many who are invited into the kingdom of God may prove unworthy by their actions. If the path is narrow, and only a few are willing to put forth the humble attitude of trusting in God’s grace (and not in our own efforts) and humbly living a Christ-centered life of love and mercy, forgiveness and grace, then the big question for each of us is whether WE are presently a part of that small crowd. Are we a part of the group that goes against the norms of society, and that struggles to live according to the Gospel and our Lord’s commandments.

“The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy.”May we never hear these words directed to us from our Lord, but instead, may we make every effort to orient our lives according to His commandments, living each and every moment loving others, forgiving others, showing compassion and mercy towards others, and dwelling here and now according to the precepts of the Kingdom of God.

 

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