Entrapment of Excuses
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17).
A pure heart — unstained, undisturbed, unbroken calm and rest in God. Purity is the goal of our Christian life. It is the banquet — where all the guilt stuffed inside is gone, all anxieties and noise in the head silenced, and a peace that runs so deep, nothing stands between you and God. What keeps us from this peace? One thing: our excuses.
“Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now’” (Luke 14:16-17).
There is nothing as universal as the appreciation for good food. Imagine a royal wedding banquet in middle-eastern culture, in any culture, where no expense is spared for the best dishes. Roasted meat, savory delicacies, and sweet deserts — now add a glass of rich wine — perfection. There is a reason Christ describes paradise as a banquet, for the same reason the Church teaches us to feast after a long fast. That climax at the end of a good meal — the happy food coma — it is about as close to bliss as we can know on earth.
This is just a taste of the true bliss of a pure heart.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
“How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves,” St. Nektarios taught. “Happiness is found within ourselves…Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God…What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!”
So, when Christ tells us about the king’s banquet, this is what he is talking about: purity of heart — to live in a state of steadfast apprehension of God’s beauty — in eternity to come, as well as in our life here on earth.
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:5). “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
If purity of heart is so good, we have to ask ourselves something. What prevents us from achieving purity?
“Someone gave a great dinner and invited many…’Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses” (Luke 14:16-18).
God does not hold back anything from us. The banquet is ready. The doors are open. He sends his servants to welcome us to the feast. He sent us angels and prophets. From the stars to the smallest blade of grass, all nature proclaim’s God. Finally, he sent his Son to escort us. In our own lives, God has open countless doors. He has saved us from so much dysfunction. We can never know all that God has done for us, on a personal level, to lay out the path to inner purity.
But how do we respond?
πάντες ἀπὸ παραιτεῖσθαι παρῃτημένον.
“They all alike began to make excuses.” They παρῃτημένον — The very word implies a pushing back against — like a child squirming out of his parents arms, putting up a defensive wall, resolute justification. All human history is represented in this single line, is it not? Adam, hiding in the bushes, made excuses: “You gave me the woman.” Cain, after murdering his brother made excuses: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Spend time with children and you will hear all manner of excuses. What about our own hearts? How do we justify? How have we excused ourselves from God’s Way, all these years, each and every day.
“They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.’ Another said, I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come’ (Luke 14:18-20).
Good excuses — each of them. We also have good excuses. When we stand before God on Judgment Day, we may think, we will have every manner of excuse for our lives here. Why did we not pursue righteousness more fervently? Why did we not dedicate every day to holiness? Why did we put off prayers, fasting, almsgiving, love?
“They all alike began to make excuses.”
This passage reveals something profound about ourselves. I do not think it has to come across as too heavy handed. Christ is simply trying to get us to be honest. Look inside your heart. Observe the excuses. Call a spade a spade.
In one episode on Food Network, Chef Robert Irvine took his team into a failing restaurant. What was going wrong? One by one, they listened to cooks and managers. A common theme wove through everyone’s response. To quote our Lord, “They all alike began to make excuses.” At the end of the episode, Chef Robert hit the problem on the nail. He gave the staff one advice: “Step up and own it.”
That is what Christ tells us today about our spiritual walk: “Step up and own it.”
Here is a word from St. Paisios:
“Excuses have nothing to do with the spiritual life. I must understand that when I try to justify myself with excuses, I am in a wrong state of mind…There is no stronger barrier to the Grace of God than excuses! One who justifies himself with excuses makes no progress in the spiritual life, nor can he find any inner peace. God will not condemn us for a mistake we have made, but we must not try to justify ourselves for that mistake, and consider it to be just a natural thing…Find and acknowledge your fault, and “catch” yourself next time.”
God offers us a great banquet: the peace of a pure heart.
He expects us to live a life pursuing purity — to touch nothing unclean — so that we can rest entirely in his presence. We do not have to live in all the noise and stress in our heads. We can truly become vessels for God’s work here on earth. But we will not get there so long as we make our excuses. May God make us honest. “Step up and own it.”