28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first part of the Book of Isaiah is the source of this weekend’s first reading.
When this Scripture was written, many factors seemed to be gathering against God’s people. As the other prophets in their times, Isaiah had to encourage the people in their dedication to God and reinforce their trust in God, regardless of the menacing times.
In this reading, the prophet reassures the people that they will see God’s justice prevail. It will prevail in their very sight, on the holy mountain that is the site of Jerusalem, their capital. All who oppose God will be overcome. Anyone who threatens God’s people will be repelled.
The people’s sinfulness, not any divine indifference or lapse of mercy, creates great problems for them. In fact, God never forsakes them, never withholds divine mercy.
Providing the second reading is the Epistle to the Philippians. When this epistle was written, Paul was imprisoned, a circumstance that recurred throughout his life as an Apostle. Eventually, of course, he was tried for treason, for refusal to worship the emperor, and he was decapitated on the outskirts of Rome.
In this reading, Paul says that he is “experienced” in being brought low, or in being insulted or even jailed. Yet, despite all, he trusted in God and would never relent for a second in following the Lord’s call.
For its last reading, the Church presents us with a reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel.
This reading is a parable. There are three parts. In the first part, a “king,” who represents God, invites guests to a wedding banquet for his son. These people reject the invitation. The king invites guests again. Again, the invitation is ignored. Then, in the second part, the king invites outcasts and strangers to the feast. They come.
However, in the third part, the king sees a guest at the banquet improperly dressed. He orders this guest to be thrown out.
Just as the king represents God, the servants who carry the king’s invitations represent the prophets. The prospective guests who spurn the invitation represent God’s Chosen People. The outcasts and strangers represent the aliens and the sinful.
The last part of the story, the harsh expulsion of the inappropriately attired guest always puzzles readers. Where is the God of love and mercy in this?
The expelled guest was halfhearted in his willingness to accept the king’s invitation. Perhaps he impulsively came to the feast but was unprepared and not fully committed. God’s mercy is lavish. His invitation to salvation is universal, but people must totally turn from sin and turn to God to be worthy. They choose for themselves.
These readings call us to several basic facts. The first is that God never fails in mercy. He does not disown the promise, spoken long ago through the prophets, and then finally by Christ, to guide people to everlasting life by revealing to them the laws of righteousness and by strengthening their resolve to be righteous.
The second is that humans inevitably fail. They sin. Such is the aftermath of the sin of Adam and Eve, the original sin, a basic Church teaching often forgotten. Because of this sin, human nature is distorted and weakened. People must decide to overcome the weakening effects of original sin and give themselves totally to God. God will assist them in this, but God will not compel them.
The third lesson is that loyalty to God, in Jesus, is much more than pious words or vague good intentions. It means genuinely Christian lives.
At Baptism, each of us was covered by a spotlessly white garment, indicating absolute purity and conviction. We must wear this garment figuratively throughout our lives as if it truly symbolizes our lifelong utter dedication to holiness.
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