The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (14:16-24)
The great philosopher Socrates once said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” What a statement! “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I suspect that if we all take a step back or rather, if we take a step and look inward, we find that many of us or most of us have not been very good about examining our lives. In this regard we have lost our way and have not understood our purpose or the meaning of our lives.
Recently I was speaking with someone and we talked about this notion of “days of obligation” that exist within the Roman Catholic understanding. It is an interesting and strange idea that one should feel obligated to go to church. I am not forced to go anywhere or do anything as a human being with a free will. Whatever I decide is ultimately a choice. If I force you to come and have dinner with me, that does not show any respect for who you are because you have no say in the matter. If you are obligated, you are in some ways not truly free but rather a slave.
In today’s gospel passage our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us that obligation has nothing to do with our relationship with God and His Church. The Lord said “A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many.” It speaks to our misguided attitudes that we feel honored and run from place to place whenever we are invited anywhere by anyone. Not only do we make sure that we show up but we try to clean ourselves and put on nice clothes, and make our appearance neat. We also go out of our way to show our gratitude to those who have invited us by bringing a nice gift and not showing up empty handed. We don’t do any of this because we are forced to or feel that we must. Hopefully we don’t do these things out of a sense of obligation, but out of a sense of cheerful joy.
When, however we think about coming to the Church we often approach it as if it were some sort of funeral. We drag our feet and think to ourselves, “why am I burdened by having to go to church?” Sometimes in our day to day life we think “Why must I be burdened with praying or reading the Bible? Why must I fast and repent and struggle?” We question and we often make excuses just like the men in this gospel passage. This is the appropriate mentality for servants and slaves who have no free will, but my brothers and sisters, we are the honored guests of the Lord Himself. We’ve been given this tremendous honor and blessing but what do we do with this invitation? We’ve mentioned the way that we respond when invited by friends to a gathering. We get cleaned up and we bring a gift and we come with a cheerful attitude. What we do for our friends, we should do for the sake of the One who truly loves us.
We should accept the invitation to the Lord’s banquet with tremendous joy and cheerfulness. We should put on our best garments….not the outer garments, not ties or fancy dresses or nice jewelry, but the garments of righteousness and holiness. We should wash our souls through repentance and purify our hearts and minds through the reading of Scripture which is “the washing of the word.” And we should come with a great sense of gratitude, bringing gifts to God, not out of a sense of compulsion or guilt, but freely, because we are overwhelmed by God’s generosity and mercy towards us.
God cannot save us by force. A man cannot gain the attention and love of his bride through force…but just the opposite, through freedom which is a sign of love. God loves us with this type of love. It is a gentle, quiet love that invites and welcomes and waits and hopes that one day we will wake up and respond not with boredom or dread but true thanksgiving and awareness of the Lord’s compassion and the wealth that He hopes to share with us. Practically speaking we need to reorient ourselves and our way of thinking. We do this through repentance. We do this by being brutally honest about who we are and how we have fallen short of the glory of God. We also reorient ourselves through remembrance of where we have been and how God has redeemed and healed and restored our lives. All of these actions lead us back to joyful thanksgiving which is precisely why we should come here and celebrate the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”).
Today we are present for a great banquet and we celebrate a meal of thanksgiving and all of this is made possible because we have accepted the invitation to be in the presence of God and to feast with Him. We are invited to life, to joy, to peace and to salvation through Christ who is our life and our joy, our peace and our salvation….to Him be the glory unto the ages of ages AMEN!