“It is told of two neighbors who were tailors that they were very different in their work and in their prayer, in their possessions and in their contentment. One of them had a large family and the other was single. The first had the habit of going to church each morning, and the lone one never went to church. The first not only worked less, but was a less skilled worker man than the other, but he had all he needed and the other was in difficult circumstances. The latter asked the former how it was that he had everything although he worked less. The prayerful man replied that he went to church every day, and found some gold on the way. He invited his neighbor to go with him to pray, promising that they would share the gold they had found. His neighbor began going regularly to church, and they both soon became one in their abundance and their contentment. Of course, they found no gold on the way, but the gold of God’s blessing increased the abundance of these true men of prayer.” – Prologue from Ochrid.
What does it take for us to have a heart for God? Does it have to be the promise of gold or some other perceived reward? The answer may be yes, because we are convinced that frankly, we are just busy people. Given the demands and complexities of life, God should be happy that we are here at all. With this belief about ourselves, it might take the promise of gold for us to give God a greater priority. I wrote in a blog years ago that if we advertised that perfect attendance at vigil for a year would result in a new car or TV, or a cruise to the Caribbean, the church would be full every Saturday night.
I’ve had “black Friday” experiences that didn’t happen on a Friday. I once saw people pushed through a plate glass window by an crowd anxious to get in a store for things like 25 cent socks and 75 cent underwear. I have had a few “Black Fridays” and I was amazed at how people massed or stood in line. I also saw the fear on the faces of the workers inside the store, when it came time to open the door. When people believe that there is a reward ahead of them, or a pleasure, they will trample on others to get to them.
One of the great monastic Fathers was sitting in a public square with his disciples, when a woman whose beauty was renowned entered the square with her entourage. The monastic Father began to weep. “Why are you weeping, Batiushka? Does this woman offend you because she is such a sinner?” “No,” he replied. “Look at her -her make up, her attire, her hair- everything is so well done that she puts me to shame.” The disciples wondered at the Father’s observation. Then Batiuska replied, “Think of the time she spends on her appearance and by comparison, I spend so little time on my soul. It is clear that she is more dedicated to her god than I am to mine.”
The parable that Jesus tells of the marriage feast of the great King is filled with irony. An invitation to a feast held by a king should be even more enticing that gold, but Jesus said that those invited “made light of it.” Given the power of the King over life and death, how does one do that? Jesus gives us a clue. He said that each went his way, one to his farm, and one to his merchandise. Yes, like us, they were busy men. Some of them even killed those that the king sent out to invite them. To these men, the king wrecks destruction. At last, a man shows up, but he is totally undressed. He came but did absolutely nothing to prepared himself for the party.
The Lord sums it all up – “Many are called, but few are chosen.” We need to listen to this carefully. The Blessed Theophylact says ” For it is God’s part to call, but to become one of the chosen or not is our part.” That’s interesting because I thought being chosen had nothing to do with me, but apparently it has everything to do with me. Theophylact points out that the Jews are good example of this. We might call them “the chosen people”, but he says that while they were certainly called, they were not chosen because “they did not listen” and they slew those sent to them.
So, we might rejoice in the fact that we have been called to Holy Orthodoxy. Truly it is a great blessing. Yet, we should realize that being called does not make us special. The Great King calls everyone, the good and the bad and the ugly to his party. Some are too busy to make it, but some find their way to the banquet. That is a wonderful thing, but it is not enough. We must put on the wedding garment -a pure garment of a pious and holy life. Of course, attaining such a life requires effort and time. To give this the time it needs, it must become our number one priority.
We struggle at this message because we know we are just too busy. We have “fields and possessions” and they cost a pretty sum. We cannot leave them even though we know that our priorities are killing us physically, and we neglect our soul and endanger our future life. I invite you to remember the promise that Jesus made to us. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” We have it backwards. We kill ourselves seeking the things, and hope that the Kingdom will be added.
Does it take the promise of gold to get us to dedicate ourselves to spiritual life? Well there is something greater than gold that awaits us, not just in the life to come but in this life as well.
The invitation has been given, I hope that your response is not “I cannot come.” If you do come to the party, may you strive to put on Christ, the only true wedding garment.