Dear Parish Faithful,
Christ is Born!
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Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
The Parable of the Great Banquet (LK. 14:16-24) is always read on the Second Sunday Before Nativity, also designated as Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of Christ. Thus, at last Sunday’s Liturgy, we heard this parable as we continue to draw closer to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. In this parable, Christ employs the biblical image of a great banquet as an image of the Kingdom of God. This is a very biblical image that the Lord draws on. To give just two examples: this image can be found in the Prophet Isaiah (25:6-9) and the Book of Revelation (19:9). This is the eschatological messianic banquet that God will bless His people with, signifying fellowship, joy and communion with God and in God’s presence. The Eucharistic banquet that we celebrate within the life of the Church is the foretaste and anticipation of this “banquet” without end in the Kingdom of God. Yet, in the parable as told by the Lord, we discover that the very people invited find excuses for their unwillingness to accept the master’s invitation to attend. (In fact, in the Orthodox Study Bible, this parable is given the subtitle “Wordly Entanglements, Poor Excuses”). These are, of course, very 1st c. Palestinian excuses: “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; please have me excused.” These excuses sound legitimate enough in their practicality. However, these very practical excuses do not impress the master, for the parable tells us that they “angered” him. This was not an invitation to treat lightly. The master then sent his servant out on a further mission as we hear in the parable: to invite those who are on the margins of society – “the poor, and maimed and blind and lame;” and those basically outside of that society – “Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in.”
In its original setting and intention, the parable is a clear rebuke to the Lord’s fellow Jews for rejecting His invitation to enter the messianic banquet that the “master” (His heavenly Father) has prepared through His own ministry as the (Suffering) Servant of God. To replace those whose lame excuses prevent them from entering into this great banquet, both those marginalized by restrictions of the Law and the Gentile unbelievers will be invited in to the feast. And this may come as a shock to those initially invited. Those who were initially invited must suffer the consequences of the master’s final pronouncement: “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my banquet.” We, in turn, must look beyond the original intention of the parable so that we do not succumb to that moralizing complacency that allows us to judge others of the very sin we may be committing. We must leave to God whatever judgments that God may determine for unbelief and the rejection of the messianic ministry of Jesus; a ministry fulfilled in the Death and Resurrection of God’s Messiah and the establishment of the messianic banquet in the Age to Come and anticipated today in the Eucharistic Liturgy.
Perhaps there are some contemporary members of the Church who excuse themselves for rejecting the “invitation” to the Liturgy celebrated on the Lord’s Day – perhaps only from “time to time,” or perhaps with some regularity. As said above, since the Liturgy is the foretaste of the great and heavenly banquet of the Age to Come, we also may incur the displeasure of the Master by our own excuses, though they may sound as legitimate and practical as those recorded in the parable. In our contemporary society there are many seemingly innocuous reasons (excuses?) for not participating in the Liturgy on the Lord’s Day with faithful regularity. And these reasons are only going to multiply over time. Sunday mornings are no longer that nice wide-open space on our pocket planners or refrigerator calendars that are unquestioningly left open for God and the Liturgy. The society we live in continues to encroach upon that empty space and is threatening to squeeze it out of existence. The parable of the Great Banquet has something to say about that. Thus, we have the opportunity to think long and hard over our choices.
Yet beyond that issue, we must seriously listen to this parable and discover how it is actualized in our many decisions on a daily basis. We may have the “Liturgy issue” under perfect control in that we are unfailingly faithful to our commitment to be present at the messianic banquet table of the Lord from which we partake of the Bread from Heaven. (Hopefully that is reason for rejoicing and not simply an act of obligation). However, we may have our own litany of excuses as to why we fail to work on our ongoing relationship with God, thus extending the application of this parable to embrace all aspects of that relationship. If we fail to pray with regularity, or read the Scriptures, or confess our sins, we have an excuse. If we fail to fast, or to be charitable, we have an excuse. If we fail to support the Church – and its local manifestation in the parish - with our time, talent or treasure beyond the minimal, we have an excuse. If we are less than a neighbor to those in need, or neglect the marginalized of society, we have an excuse. The human mind is a veritable factory of creative excuse-making when we need to rationalize or justify a certain behavior or lack of behavior. (see GEN. 3) Perhaps a sign of Christian maturity is when we no longer come up with excuses, but simply admit to our shortcomings and lack of focus.
To offer a generalization, it seems that the excuses given in the parable seem to fall under the rubric of “being busy.” Or, rather, that we are simply “too busy” to do what is needed, and/or even to concentrate on the “one thing needful.” Perhaps we can avoid sin, but we cannot avoid our busy schedules. We are too busy to even sin – at least “big time!” This is the human condition as lived by contemporary human beings. And there is no easy solution.
Perhaps it is only our vision of life that can begin to help us move beyond this impasse: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (COL. 3:1). A vision of life nourished by an abiding faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that believing we have life in His Name (JN. 20:31). Yet, also further nourished by the Great Banquet of the Eucharistic Liturgy that we are invited to every Sunday, which is therefore the Day that first and foremost belongs to the Lord before and beyond anything else. This vision of life would also be future-oriented so as to embrace the “life of the world to come” – described for us as a Great Banquet in which we will experience the indescribable joy of fellowship and communion with the Holy Trinity, the saints and with each other. By participating in the Liturgy we prepare ourselves for that life with God, because the Liturgy is probably the most perfect expression of what we anticipate and look forward to in God’s heavenly Kingdom – fellowship, joy, communion and love inexpressible. If we can only hold that vision of life up to our gaze, then we can “make time” so as to hold God at the center of our lives. I suggest that a modest start is stop making excuses, and make an honest assessment of what we need to repent of and confess to. Then, we have always at least the potential for a new beginning.
Secondly, this notion of salvation as sharing implies – although many have been reluctant to say this openly – that Christ assumed not just unfallen but fallen human nature. As the Epistle to the Hebrews insists (and in the New Testament there is no Christological text more important than this): “We do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but he was in all points tempted exactly as we are, yet without sinning” (4:15). Christ lives out his life on earth under the conditions of the fall. He is not himself a sinful person, but in his solidarity with fallen man he accepts to the full the consequences of Adam’s sin. He accepts to the full not only the physical consequences, such as weariness, bodily pain, and eventually the separation of body and soul in death. He accepts also the moral consequences, the loneliness, the alienation, the inward conflict. It may seem a bold thing to ascribe all this to the living God, but a consistent doctrine of the Incarnation requires nothing less. If Christ has merely assumed unfallen human nature, living out his earthly life in the situation of Adam in Paradise, then he would not have been touched with the feeling of our infirmities, nor would he have been tempted in everything exactly as we are. And in that case he would not be our Savior.
St. Paul goes so far as to write, “God has made him who knew no sin to be sin for our sake” (II COR. 5:21). We are not to think here solely in terms of some juridical transaction, whereby Christ, himself, guiltless, somehow has our guilt “imputed” to him in an exterior manner. Much more is involved than that. Christ saves us by experiencing from within, as one of us, all that we suffer inwardly through living in a sinful world.
The Orthodox Way, p. 75-76.
Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,
Today’s addition to our selection of key passages illuminating the Incarnation for our spiritual enlightenment is a continuation of yesterday’s passage from The Orthodox Way by Archbishop Kallistos Ware. If you recall, the section of his book from which these passages are taken is entitled “Salvation as Sharing.” The very possibility of God “sharing” His life with us, is already a profoundly moving concept. How much more overwhelming is the very reality of this sharing! For we firmly believe that this is precisely what God has done in Christ – given to us a share in His divine uncreated grace and glory through the Incarnation of the eternal Word become man as Jesus of Nazareth. In this passage, you will be impressed by how strongly Archbishop Kallistos stresses the point of the full humanity of Christ. Christ did not only seem to be human, He was and is, in fact, fully human, because the Word became flesh! The sharing and exchange in the Incarnation between God and humankind is thus fully reciprocal and total. Archbishop Kallistos writes the following:
This notion of salvation as sharing implies two things in particular about the Incarnation. First, it implies that Christ took not only a human body like ours but also a human spirit, mind and soul like ours. Sin, as we saw has its source not from below but from above; it is not physical in its origin but spiritual. The aspect of man, then, that requires to be redeemed is not primarily his body but his will and his centre of moral choice. If Christ did not have a human mind, then this would fatally undermine the second principle of salvation, that divine salvation must reach the point of human need.
The importance of this principle was re-emphasized during the second half of the fourth century, when Appolinarius advanced the theory – for which he was quickly condemned as a heretic – that at the Incarnation Christ took only a human body, but no human intellect or rational soul. To this St. Gregory the Theologian replied, “The unassumed is unhealed.” Christ, that is to say, saves us by becoming what we are; he heals us by taking our broken humanity into himself, by “assuming” it as his own, by entering into our human experience and by knowing it from the inside, as being himself one of us. But had his sharing of our humanity been in some way incomplete, then man’s salvation would be likewise incomplete. If we believe that Christ has brought us a total salvation, then it follows that he has assumed everything.
The Orthodox Way, p. 74-75
To be continued …
The Christian message of salvation can best be summed up in terms of sharing, of solidarity and identification. The notion of sharing is a key alike to the doctrine of God in Trinity and to the doctrine of God made man. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that, just as man is authentically personal only when he shares with others, so God is not a single person dwelling alone, but three persons who share each other’s life in perfect love. The Incarnation equally is a doctrine of sharing or participation. Christ shares to the full in what we are, and so he makes it possible for us to share in what he is, in his divine life and glory. He became what we are, so as to make us what he is.
St. Paul expresses this metaphorically in terms of wealth and poverty: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through his poverty you might become rich” (II COR. 8:9). Christ’s riches are his eternal glory; Christ’s poverty is his complete self-identification with our fallen human condition . In the words of an Orthodox Christmas hymn, “Sharing wholly in our poverty, thou hast made divine our earthly nature through thy union with it and participation in it.” Christ shares in our death, and we share in his life; he “empties himself” and we are “exalted” (PHIL. 2:5-9). God’s descent makes possible man’s ascent. St. Maximus the Confessor writes: “Ineffably the infinite limits itself, while the finite is expanded to the measure of the infinite.”
As Christ said at the Last Supper: “The glory which thou hast given to me I have given to them, that they may be one, as we are one: I in them and thou in me, may they be perfectly united in one” (JN. 17:22-23). Christ enables us to share in the Father’s divine glory. He is the bond and meeting-point: because he is man, he is one with us; because he is God, he is one with the Father. So, through and in him we are one with God, and the Father’s glory becomes our glory. God’s Incarnation opens the way to man’s deification. To be deified is, more specifically, to be “christified”: the divine likeness that we are called to attain is the likeness of Christ. It is through Jesus the God-man that we men are “ingodded,” “divinized,” made “sharers of the divine nature” (II PET. 1:4). By assuming our humanity, Christ who is Son of God by nature has made us sons of God by grace. In him we are “adopted” by God the Father, becoming sons-in-the-Son.
The Orthodox Way, p. 73-74
To see in the man of Galilee, in the prophet of truth, the incarnate Word of God, God become man, we must be guided by the Spirit, because it is the Spirit of God who reveals to us both the Incarnation and the lordship of Christ. We call him Christ, and we affirm thereby that in him were fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. To affirm that Jesus is the Christ implies that the whole history of the Old Testament is ours, that we accept it as the truth of God. We call him Son of God, because we know that the Messiah expected by the Jews, the man who was called “son of David” by Bartimaeus, is the incarnate Son of God. These words sum up all we know, all we believe about Jesus Christ, from the Old Testament through the ages. In these few words we make a complete and perfect profession of faith.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sorouzh – Selected Writings, p. 135