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 and want, or worse.
Also, usually, the prophets saw little in which they could truly rejoice. Invariably the prophets wrote that human sin, not divine revenge or divine indifference to human distress, was the cause of trouble in the world. So, frequently, the prophets counseled the people always to be true to God.
This writing was actually written when times were not all that bad, but dark clouds lay on the horizon. The people were lukewarm in honoring God. Isaiah loudly protested that the sluggishness in religious devotion would be their downfall.
Isaiah also insists that if the people are faithful to God, all will be right. Peace and security will reign. Prosperity will prevail. The holy city of Jerusalem, God’s city and the royal capital, will be seen throughout the world as the center of a great nation.
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 arrested for preaching against the establishment or simply for disturbing the peace. This passage from Philippians was written while Paul was in prison.
Being jailed, humiliated and abused was Paul’s plight. Nevertheless, he says that his faith in God never wavers. His commitment to proclaiming the Gospel always leads him. Nothing else matters to him, not even his comfort or personal well-being. God gave Christ to the world. Paul must extend this gift far and wide.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. The reading is a parable, with three parts.
In the first part, a “king,” who represents God, invites familiar and privileged guests to a wedding banquet for his son. These people reject the invitation. The king invites other guests. 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 removed.
The king’s servants represent the prophets. The prospective guests who spurn the invitation represent the people of Israel. The outcasts and strangers represent the aliens and the sinful.
The message is that that God’s mercy extends to everyone. Even so, God drags no one into the kingdom of heaven. Sinners must reform to be worthy of heaven.
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 fact is simple and constant throughout history. Humans just cannot accept it. The fact is that humans sin. The sin of Adam and Eve always weakens humans. Their nature is distorted. They are myopic. They exaggerate their own powers, therefore discounting their need for God.
Conversion requires a frank realization of who and what humans are. We are sinful, but God loves us.
In this realization, humans come to the same conviction that drove St. Paul to proclaim the Lord in spite of all. Nothing matters other than to be with God. There is no life apart from God. Everything other than life with God is fickle and impermanent, empty and useless.
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