The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Father Carl Reid's sermon for Trinity XX

“Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’” (Matt. 22.1). Most Sundays there is at least one very obvious theme that binds together the readings appointed for the day. Some, such as today, offer more than one theme for us to contemplate.
By my initial quote, we might be lead to assume that the theme is the kingdom of heaven - which is fair enough, as Jesus was often talking about the kingdom of heaven, especially in Matthew’s record - “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field … is like a grain of mustard seed … is like unto leaven,” and so on. Important as this topic is, it is not the clearest binding theme for today.

A helpful little book from England that I have, “The Eucharistic Year” by Harold Riley, published in 1951, offers, week by week, concise descriptions of the themes contained within not only the Collect, Epistle (or Lesson) and Gospel, but also the minor propers - Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion verses. For today, Riley suggested that the primary theme is the contrast between the vanity of the world and the joy to be found in accepting God’s will. Fair enough.

The Prayer Book Commentary from St. Peter Publications in Charlottetown suggests that the binding theme is that of cheerful obedience and service to God - only slightly different than that of Riley. Fair enough as well.

There is however a word that appears in both the Collect and Gospel, and while the actual word is not used there, it is described in the Epistle - a word that I should like us to contemplate today - “ready,” which, as we shall discover, brings us back around to the theme of the kingdom of heaven.

“Ready.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “with preparation complete; in fit state” and so on, but those first two fit quite well with the presumed intent in today’s readings.

In the Collect, after asking for the safeguard of the Divine protection, we pray that we might be “ready both in body and soul” so that we might “cheerfully accomplish those things” that God would have done. In a very short Collect, our minds should be prompted to think very deeply of the implications of the prayer. In praying that we might be ready - in fit state - both in body and soul, we are acknowledging the need for preparedness both physically and spiritually. Which is to say, our entire being is to be in fit state, with preparation complete to carry out God’s will, or as the Collect states, “that we … may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.”

And is this something that we do, say, on Sunday mornings only, or when we visit the sick and shut-in in hospitals and retirement homes, or assist at the Shepherds or the Mission? No, the prayer is not qualified in terms of any sort of 9 to 5 occupational commitment.

This is underlined by St. Paul in the Epistle, “See then that ye walk circumspectly,” - which is to say, taking everything into account, even wary - “not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” This might seem to be aimed at a slightly different mark than the Collect, until we continue, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” In another of his well-beloved, sometimes very stark contrasts, St. Paul urges Christians to live the life of the wise, not of fools. The world, alienated from God, lives in vanity and sin; Christians are urged to “redeem the time” by using it to fulfill God’s will. St. Paul is encouraging us, no less than the Collect, to be in a state of constant readiness, almost like a sentinel on night watch, to maintain our focus on God’s will, avoiding distracting or even evil influences.

Both the Collect and the Epistle therefore, in their respective calls for us to be in fit state, taking everything into account, encourage us to be intent on the fulfilment of God’s will. In so doing, and quite properly without really thinking about it, we shall be participating in the earthly manifestation of the kingdom of heaven.

Which brings us to not only one of the aforementioned themes for this Sunday, but also the question of whether the parable as presented by Jesus in the Gospel reading refers just to the heavenly kingdom of the afterlife, or to the kingdom of heaven on earth, or to both. Some will maintain that, in his use of clear, easily visualized earthly analogies, people and situations, Jesus was primarily referring to the kingdom of heaven on earth in today’s parable, even perhaps intending that the parable would prompt his Jewish listeners to think of the call of Israel, interpreting the servants as the Prophets of God. The extension of the invitation to the marriage to anyone the servants could find meant the extension of God’s call to the Gentile world.

As with so many of His teachings, the earthly symbology has eternal implications, no less in this parable than in many others. I daresay that most of us, 2,000 years later, would think primarily of the heavenly kingdom of the afterlife when we read this parable, and I say, fair enough.

Variations of this passage come up twice yearly in our course of Sunday readings. Luke’s account of the same parable is on the Second Sunday after Trinity. There are three notable differences in the two accounts: first, in Luke’s account, we are told that the originally invited guests all just made excuses, whereas in Matthew’s account, as we heard today, on top of making excuses, some of those who had been invited took the messenger servants of the master and treated them so badly, even killing some of them, that the master exacted punishment on those ungrateful guests. Consider what impact that must have had on the Jewish listeners in term so their being the Chosen People, the originally invited guests!

Second, at the end of Luke’s account, after relating the same situation that the invited guests found excuses to not come, and that the house, even after the servants had invited all that they could find, was still not full, the master says, “None of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.” In a purely earthly interpretation, that would imply that unbelieving Jews were shut out. Against that, in Matthew’s account, the master concludes with the statement, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Without reading the passage again, we know that in fact all were called, but few chose to respond. Even though the two accounts end differently, the essential message is the same: there is room in the kingdom of heaven for everyone, and the master calls all of us to join in that heavenly banquet.

The third notable difference between Luke’s account and Matthew’s is something that only appears in Matthew’s and that is directly related to today’s theme of readiness - that almost nightmarish scenario of the poor fellow that responded to the call, came in, and then was quite unceremoniously chucked out. We might even say that the situation around him is a parable within a parable. At the beginning, I mentioned that the word “ready” appears twice in the Gospel passage, but it doesn’t refer to readiness on our part, such as we pray for in the Collect, or St. Paul exhorts in the Epistle. Rather, the word in the Gospel is used in terms of the wedding banquet being ready.

Still, in terms of things being “with preparation complete; in fit state” the readiness of the wedding banquet, and its symbolism as the kingdom of heaven, is well and truly of importance as it relates to our personal state of walking circumspectly and always being ready both in body and soul.

We might suspect that there is something very special about that figure in the parable who accepted the invitation, and came - but was thrown out. To the original hearers, the scene would have been well-known; they would have recognized that he had no excuse for coming improperly dressed. Had he been in need, the king's generosity would have taken care of that. Indeed, there was a tradition at earthly marriage feasts that the guests were actually provided with a garment to wear to the occasion. Jesus’ original hearers of this parable would have known that, and quickly concluded that there must also be something very symbolic about that man. Mere attendance, says Jesus, commenting on the attitude we might hear today expressed as “God has to take me the way I am”, well, Jesus tells us that isn’t enough.

Something else must happen to any of us who presume to respond to the invitation, and that is nothing less than the transformation of our lives in order for us to be welcome guests. As Christians, we all know that of prime importance, in this exercise that we call Church, is salvation. We all stand in need of God's saving grace: personally, individually. Upon responding to that grace, accepting the invitation to the heavenly banquet, if we would say, "Well, my mere presence is enough," then this second parable within a parable today should be fair warning that we are in fact not ready either in body or soul, not with preparation complete and in a fit state. There must be conversion, the change of clothing representing a change of heart, “casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light,” as St. Paul tells us in the 13th chapter of his letter to the Romans, and as he states just a few lines later in the same letter, “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we place all of this within the larger context of Jesus’ warnings that the day will come upon us unexpectedly, the Lord will come as a thief in the night, we should take to heart the importance, at all times and in all places, of clothing ourselves in the righteousness that is Jesus Christ so that, both in body and soul, we shall be in a fit state, ready, to be welcomed to His heavenly banquet.