Glory to God for All Things

Harlots and Drunkards at the Last Banquet

Mikhail_Nesterov-Holy_RusSince we were thinking about Dostoevsky…

Once a week I teach a class at a local alcohol and drug treatment program. It is on the “spirituality of recovery.” Recently I shared Marmaladov’s speech from Crime and Punishment (at the end of this article). There were tears in the room. For many, the version of the gospel they have heard only condemns. Most of the men I meet want to get well, to get sober. Not all of them believe that God is actually on their side. Marmaladov’s speech is wonderfully “over the top.” Do we dare believe that God will be (is) so kind?

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Mark 2:14-17)

What struck me as I listened to it was a unique quality of Christ as God incarnate: everywhere He goes the icon of the Kingdom forms around Him. In this particular gospel passage, the image is that of the banquet at the end of the ages, the Messianic banquet. And as Christ warned others, the harlots and sinners have gotten there ahead of them (Matt. 21:31).

Every meal that Christ shares in the gospels, because of who He is, cannot help but be the Messianic Banquet. Every table becomes an altar, every meal, the Eucharist.

Before approaching the Holy Cup at Divine Liturgy, Orthodox Christians say in unison:

I believe, O Lord, and I confess, that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first…

It is not unlike the beautiful communion prayer of the Anglican reformer, Thomas Cranmer: “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table…”

It is the true image of the great banquet – a gathering of the unrighteous with the Righteous One, the unworthy with Only Worthy. This is the other side of the “Narrow Door.” Here the difficult path is not marked by asceticism, but by a humility, indeed a humility wrought by a broken life. I have encountered such humility many times, and have frequently found my own “religious” accomplishments soundly rebuked. I do not need anyone to remind me that 1 Corinthians 6:10 says that “drunkards” will not inherit the Kingdom. But, O strange wonder, many of them will be found in the Kingdom while others are thrust out! Dostoevsky’s Marmeladov explains why.

Marmeladov’s Vision…

…”And He will judge and will forgive all, the good and the evil, the wise and the meek…And when He has done with all of them, then He will summon us, ‘You too come forth,’ He will say, ‘Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!’ And we shall all come forth without shame and shall stand before Him. And He will say unto us, ‘Ye are swine, made in the image of the Beast and with his mark; but come ye also!’ And the wise ones and those of understanding will say, ‘O Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?’ And He will say,’This is why I receive them, O ye wise, this is why I receive them, O ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.’ And He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him…and we shall weep…and we shall understand all things! Then we shall understand all!…and all will understand, Katerina Ivanovna even…she will understand…Lord, Thy kingdom come!” And he sank down on the bench exhausted and helpless, looking at no one, apparently oblivious of his surroundings and plunged in deep thought. His words had created a certain impression; there was a moment of silence; but soon laughter and oaths were heard again.

9 Responses to “Harlots and Drunkards at the Last Banquet”

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  1. Peyton says:

    Thank you, Father, for re-publishing this. A good reminder to me, as I am now occasionally bringing Communion to patients in the behavioral unit at our local hospital.

  2. Randy Evans says:

    Thank you Father for this post. I have been an addictions counselor for close to 11 years, and have had the privilege of seeing over and over the joy and power of Christ’s Kingdom message being recognized and humbly received by folks who have known almost nothing in their lives except abuse, abandonment, grief, debauchery, and enslavement to substances – the forbidden fruit of our age. The precious image of God is never destroyed in these folks, and their humility and hunger for healing and true freedom is a constant reminder of my poverty.Thanks be to God for His unfathomable love for all mankind.

  3. Mary Bongiorno says:

    I am not worthy except for Christ Amen Amen

  4. Margaret says:

    I also thank you, Fr. Stephen, for re-posting this!

  5. Christina says:

    Father, thank you for posting this. It is an always timely reminder of one of my favorite aspects of Orthodoxy. Our God truly is the hope of the hopeless. To Him be the glory!

  6. Guy says:

    This is near and dear to my heart having 2 parents who were alchoholics, one of which committed and unspeakable suicide.

    Here is another like the vision quoted above:
    God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of all, of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust, of the pious or the impious, of those freed from passions or those caught up in them, of monks or those
    living in the world, of the educated and the illitrate, of the healthy and the sick, of the young or the old. He is like the outpouring of light, the glimpse of
    the sun, or the changes of the weather which are the same for everyone without exception.

    St. John Climacus (of the Ladder)

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