Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first part of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend’s first reading at Mass.
Understanding the cultural, social, political and economic context surrounding the composition of biblical texts always helps to capture their meaning.
As a general rule, times were not good for the chosen people. Aside from bursts of prosperity and peace under David and Solomon, they usually had to cope with war, invasion, want or worse.
Also, usually, the prophets saw little that they could truly applaud. Invariably the prophets wrote that human sin, not divine revenge, not divine indifference to human distress, was the cause of trouble in the world. So, frequently the prophets demanded that people always be true to God.
This passage was written when times were not all that bad, but dark storm clouds lay on the horizon. The people, generally speaking, were lukewarm in honoring God. Isaiah loudly protested that this religious sluggishness surely would be their downfall.
Isaiah also insisted that if the people were faithful to God, all would be right. Peace and security would reign. Prosperity would prevail. Tears would be wiped away. Fears would be stilled. People would rejoice that God had saved them. God would be in their hearts.
The second reading is from the Epistle to the Philippians. On several occasions recorded in Acts or in the Pauline epistles, Paul was imprisoned, having been convicted for preaching against the establishment or simply for disturbing the peace. This passage from Philippians was written while Paul was in prison.
Jail, humiliation and abuse were Paul’s plight. Nevertheless, he said that his faith in God never wavered. His commitment to proclaiming the Gospel always led him. Nothing else mattered to him, not even his comfort or personal well-being. God gave Christ to the world. Paul felt that he had to extend this gift far and wide.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. The reading is a parable, with three developments.
First, a “king,” who represents God, invited guests, familiar and even privileged, to a wedding banquet for his son. These people rejected the invitation. Next, the king invited other guests. They also ignored the invitation, distracted by other concerns. Finally, the king invited outcasts and strangers to the feast. They came.
As all celebrated, the king saw a guest at the banquet improperly dressed. He ordered this guest to be removed.
The king’s servants represent the prophets. The privileged guests who spurn the invitation represent the people of Israel. The invited with other interests are those who think themselves without need for God. The outcasts and strangers represent gentiles and the sinful.
God’s mercy extends to everyone. Even so, God drags no one into the kingdom of heaven. Sinners must reform to be worthy of God’s invitation.
These readings call us to several basic facts. First, God’s mercy never fails. He does not disown the promise spoken long ago through the prophets, and then emphatically by Christ, to guide people to everlasting life by revealing to them the way of righteousness and by strengthening their resolve to be holy.
The second fact is simple and constant throughout history. Humans reject God’s goodness. They sin. Original sin always weakens them and blinds them. Their priorities are twisted. They are confused. They exaggerate their own powers and insights. They discount their need for God.
They may wish to be at the banquet, but they do not prepare themselves. They arrive without truly giving themselves to God.
Humans always can come to the conviction that drove St. Paul to proclaim the Lord in spite of everything. Nothing matters other than to be with God. Nothing genuinely good is apart from God. Everything other than life with God is fickle and impermanent, empty and a mirage.
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