Each of us views his world through his own lens - sometimes clear, other times foggy, or rose-colored. For me, since I’ve begun work on Orthodox Stewardship, I’ve begun to see a lot of things in terms of stewardship, most notably the passages of Holy Scripture. If you ask whether the idea of stewardship shows up in the Bible, I would say, “It’s everywhere.” In fact, I’ve wanted to compile some short homilies on how stewardship shows up in the regular Sunday readings, so this is a great opportunity to start!
Our passage today describes our spiritual journey in parable form, describing it as a journey to attend the Marriage Feast of the ‘Son’. The Marriage Feast for Orthodox is rich in imagery because it represents our eternal Communion with Christ, in His Kingdom. Our Paschal hymns refer to Christ as the Bridegroom, with the Church as the Bride, and it is a timeless image of this spiritual reality. It is our Destination - indeed our destiny, if we but respond to the Master’s invitation. To give us a picture of this imagery, a beautiful icon of the Marriage Feast was specially written by iconographer Michael Kapeluck for the UOC of USA, and can be viewed at our Consistory atrium.
But how does the Marriage Feast parable relate to stewardship? Stewardship is, simply, what we do with the invitation.
Do we receive it?
Open it - read it?
Rejoice in the Good News contained in the invitation?
Send back an affirmative response?
Make plans to participate?
Set our schedule so that we can make it to the Wedding?
Make the journey to arrive at the Feast?
Knock, so as to enter? Etc.
What we do with the invitation is dependent, not upon God, but upon us - our will and desire. So if we really desire to participate in the Feast, we will open the invitation, respond to it, celebrate it, and attend the Feast. The parable has many lessons, but this reflection will mirror just the first part of the parable.
This special invitation went out to all of the invitees by personal messenger, but as the passage says, “they were not willing to come.” This personalized and wonderful invitation, from the Lord and Master the Himself, was rejected because of an unwillingness of the recipients. They just failed to respond with a ‘Yes’ by ignoring it or by rejecting it for other things more ‘important’ in their world. So the invitees never depar to attend the Feast, let alone arrive. With the recipients having ignored the first invitation, the Master sends out a second, this time with instructions to His emissaries to get a ‘reason’ for the negative response. The second time, “they made light of it, going their own ways, one to his farm, another to his business.” The parable continues with the judgment of these persons unwilling to attend the marriage feast. In the end they lose everything - their homes, farms, businesses, etc. which were so important to them.
So it begins with the critical moment - the arrival of the invitation. God’s invitation must be received. This is a very simple concept but easily lost on us. To be a steward of something first requires that we receive it. To receive such a gift means to open it, read it, understand it and ponder its meaning. A spiritual invitation from God does not come in an envelope or with a knock on the door by an angel (unless you are Mary the Theotokos). Rather, it comes through the Church, Christ’s emissaries in the world from the time of His Ascension and Pentecost until this day.
If we stop to think about it, what we have received from God? It is pretty easy to make a list - beginning with life itself, our families, homes, jobs (for those who are still employed), friends, food, shelter, etc. Most of us probably think of the material things of life first. But what about Faith, Hope, Love, the Church, the Sacraments, Scriptures? If we do not see such spiritual gifts as personally sent to us from God, we will never receive them. This is the heart of the problem in the parable. While those invited might have been great farmers or businessmen, that was not good enough. What they were invited to do, and called to do, was put aside their farming or business, so that something more important could be attended to. It is a key principle of stewardship that while almost everything has some value in life, some things have greater value, and the good steward puts aside things of lesser value so as to get to the important things.
In this life, there is nothing more important than our invitation to His Mystical Supper - our spiritual life! In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “When spiritual things call us, there is no press of business that has the power of necessity.” (Homily 69 on Mathew) Whenever we put other things above this in our hierarchy of values/choices - calling them ‘needs’ - we are effectively doing what the evil (and foolish) guys in the story did, were totally orienting their life energy and focus toward daily concerns. The message of the Marriage Feast parable is beautifully recounted in the Cherubic Hymn that we sing at every Liturgy, as we are called us to ‘lay aside all earthly cares so that we may receive the King of All’. Note here - ‘receive the King of All’ does not happen unless and until we ‘set aside the earthly cares.’
It is not a great leap to see how all of this applies to the practical aspects of our life. Because the Sunday Divine Liturgy is the Banquet of the Heavenly Kingdom, whenever we are unwilling to accept the Lord’s invitation to ‘approach with the fear of God, with faith and love’ and make the effort to show up on Sunday, we offend the Master. Just as bad, when we make excuses for not attending the Liturgy, invariably, it’s some form of earthly care that has taken over in value. Priests in the Pittsburgh area note that Sunday Liturgy attendance declines noticeably when the Steeler game starts at 1pm on Sunday. There’s simply not enough time to get out of Liturgy and get home in time for kickoff, so people begin their pre-game activities early. To do this simply reveals what has greater value to a person in his life.
The whole notion of the ‘Sabbath’ in Judaism was an action to ‘make holy’ the first portion of time back to the Lord, in thanksgiving. To make the Christian offering of the first day of the week (Sunday) to the Lord is to yank ourselves out of our ‘daily cares’ so that we can be with the Lord. This is an essential response to the Master - accepting His invitation to participate at the Banquet. Failing to do this will almost always mean over-entanglement in the world, symptomized by a slavery to one’s job (or house, gadgets, or whatnot). There is no joy to be found in such slavery; people who choose this path lose their spiritual focus and with it - as with the men in the parable - they lose everything. To be a Christian steward is to order our lives by keeping God’s priorities in our minds, and ordering our time and life activities accordingly.
The Parable of the Marriage Feast announces that there’s a place at the table, the Lord’s table, waiting for each of us.. The acceptance of our invitation means that we will have to set aside other things to attend - and participate fully in the joy of the Master. Have we accepted the invitation? Sent in a response? Started to prepare? Headed on our way? Is the Destination in our minds? Is it in sight?
Yes, the Feast will be enjoyed - by those who respond to the invitation.
Fr. Robert Holet