June 9, 2013 A+D
St. Luke 14: 15-24
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Commentators have seen in the three excuses from the parable of the wedding banquet a sweeping picture of sinful men.
St. Augustine takes a cue from 1 John 2:16 “all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.”
The desires of the flesh: I have married a wife. The desire of the eyes: I have bought five yoke of oxen. The pride of life: I have bought land. Here is the totality of what keeps men from God: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life as typified in the excuses given in order to decline the invitation to the banquet.
St. Ambrose sees in the excuses an allegory for three types of people: Gentiles, Jews, and Heretics. The Gentile pagans are tied to the land. They will not come because they bought a farm. They belong to the pagan goddesses of the earth who demand the lives of their children. The Jews are tied to the yoke of the law. The five yoke of oxen represent the five books of Moses. They would rather be under the law than come to the Kingdom of liberty. The heretics are the worst. They are belligerent. They say: “I have wife. I cannot come.” They are tied to the flesh.
In this, all of the commentators agree and are correct: the parable warns us of the seductions of this world. This is how it is in the Kingdom of God: a rich man invites the poor and hungry to come and feast for free, to live in His house, to partake of His luxuries, and they are too haughty or too afraid or too proud to come.
They make a poor choice. The delights of the body, the delights of the eye, and the pride of life never satisfy. When we have been infected with these lusts and are lacking that which we desire, whether it is the arms of a lover, food or wine, or a fancy house and car, then we suffer in our desire and lack. We are consumed and miserable with want for what we do not have. “If only I were rich or thin or so-and-so loved me,” we think and are miserable and unhappy. But when we do possess those things, we are devoured by them. We almost always hate ourselves and that which we thought we wanted afterwards. We delude ourselves on our way to visit the whore, pretending that it will be different this time, pretending she loves us and wants us, pretending that it is a romance and seduction of the most erotic kind, and then we slink away in terrible shame, guilt, and disgust – until the next time.
My favorite pagan poet, Robert Burns, catches the reality well, even though, as far as we know, he rejected Christ’s invitation for the sake of fornication and drunkeness. Those were his idols. But he saw well through materialism. He wrote.
The worldly race may riches chase,
And riches still may fly them, . . .
And though at last they catch them fast,
Their hearts can never enjoy them, . . .
To return to St. Augustine, he most famously put it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Excuses are vain even if valid. Sin never delivers and never lacks victims. The murderer is a victim of his own crime even more so, in a sense, than the one that he murdered.
On the other hand, spiritual joy actually does satisfy. Unlike fleshly pleasures, when we do not possess joy, when we are filled with despair and fear and guilt, we desire the joy that we lack but we are not consumed by it. It does not haunt us or hurt us. We recall the peace of God, the joy of His presence, and our memory delights and even tastes of it in that memory, even as God, through His Word in our memory, beckons us anew to the feast, to rest. Come ye weary, He says, and I will give you rest. And when we come, in repentance and faith, when His Word has its way with us, when we hear anew the account of His holy passion and sacrifice on our account, when we are absolved and the angels rejoice, and we partake of His Holy Body and Blood and are forgiven and are made one with Him and sealed in His grace, our hearts soar and delight without loathing, without shame, and without regret. The joy He bestows is real and lasting joy.
So, come, ye poor and crippled, blind and lame. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the Lord has laid down His life for you. Hush your excuses. Stop you vain pursuit elsewhere. Nothing else will fill the hole in your heart. Nothing else will give you rest. You were made for God by God and He will satisfy you. So receive the blessing and forgiveness of the Father in His mercy through the Son in the Spirit. He wants you here. He wants to give you rest. He laid down His life for you and beckons once again: Come, beloved, come to the Feast.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.