September 2 (O.S., August 2) 2018: 14th Sunday after Pentecost. Afterfeast of the Dormition; Prophet Samuel (6th c. B.C.); Martyrs Severus, Memnon, and 37 soldiers at Plovdiv in Thrace (304).
Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Mission
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1:21-2:4
Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Like last week’s parable of the wicked tenants, the parable we hear this morning is directed at us. We are those who have been invited to the Wedding Feast of the King’s Son. We should see in each of the three groups warnings about the challenges we face in our Christian life.
First are those who, as we hear in the parable, make light of the invitation. Second are those who respond with hostility, and even violence, to the King’s invitation. Most tragic of all, however, are those who come to the banquet but hold themselves apart from the celebration. Let’s look at each in turn.
At least in America, open hostility to the Gospel is, thank God, relatively rare. But especially in an academic context like UW, it isn’t uncommon to encounter individuals who dismiss the Gospel as somehow incompatible with being an educated person.
For others, and this is the second category, the Gospel isn’t simply the superstition of the intellectual unsophisticated. Rather life in Christ is seen as oppressive, a social ill that needs to be eradicated or at least limited to the private sphere.
These first two groups are fellow travelers. The quiet contempt of the first emboldens the second even as the second confirms the first group’s feelings of intellectual and cultural superiority.
To be fair, while the hostilities are ultimately unwarranted and represent a serious distortion of the tradition of the Church, Christians are not always the best example of the truth of the Gospel. My own lapses in charity do more to undermine the credibility of the Gospel than the polemics of the so-called “new atheists.” Far too often my personality or my behavior isn’t as a bridge between the others and Jesus Christ but a wall. At times it seems my concern is not to live in such a way that reveals Jesus to the world but to hide Him from others.
If those who hold the Gospel in contempt or who persecute Christians are wrong, we who believe in Jesus Christ would do well to consider how our own actions and attitudes contribute to the situation.
This brings me to the third group: those who accept the invitation but who hold themselves apart from the Kingdom of God.
We will leave to scholars the debate about whether or not the ungrateful guest failed to come dressed properly or whether he refused the gift of a wedding garment. For the fathers of the Church, this is a secondary concern. Their primary concern is with the garment as a symbol of the grace of Holy Baptism.
All of us who have been “baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” as St Paul tell us (Galatians 3:27). Having been clothed in divine grace, what then? Do I take seriously my own vocation to be a son or daughter of God? Do I know what it means to fulfill my baptismal vocation? Do I even know that I have such a vocation?
For many Orthodox Christians, indeed for the vast majority of Orthodox Christians, the answer to these questions is “No.” This doesn’t, however, so much reflect indifference or hostility on their part but a lack of information.
For most Orthodox Christians, life in Christ begins and ends with participation in the Divine Liturgy. Without in any way minimizing the centrality of the Liturgy, life in Christ is much broader and deeper than the passive attendance at Liturgy.
Putting on my social scientist cap for just a moment, I suspect that the reason so few Orthodox Christians make attendance at Liturgy and the reception of Holy Communion a priority is because the clergy–bishops, priests, and deacons–have neglected the spiritual formation of the laity. We–the clergy–don’t take seriously the vocation of the laity that each of us received at baptism.
But we all of us have a vocation!
At our baptism, God gives each of us gifts to use for His glory, the salvation of the world and our own growth in holiness. God has called each of us to be co-workers with Christ for the salvation of the world (1 Corinthians 3:9). And we gain our salvation through our faithful response to the grace poured out in our lives not only once at baptism but daily, hourly, moment by moment.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! How many Orthodox Christians, how many of us, know concretely that we have been called by God to work for the salvation of the world? How many of us realize–much less act on–that the vocation of the laity is far more than serving on a parish council, teaching church school, or singing in the choir?
All good things those they are, they don’t exhaust what it means to be an Orthodox Christian. We all of us have a vocation that was given in to us Baptism.
This vocation is nourished by the Eucharist.
This vocation s healed and strengthened by the other sacraments and the liturgical and ascetical life of the Church.
In the coming weeks, will look at that vocation in more detail. For now, though, ask God in your daily prayers to reveal to you the contours and content of your own baptismal vocation.