Let me ask you something. Actually several somethings.
What do you think salvation means?
What is the point of salvation?
Are we “saved” simply to go to heaven when we die?
What does the “kingdom of heaven” refer to?
These are all questions that are brought to my mind when I look at this week’s readings. I must admit that I had not really thought a lot about all this until just a few years ago. I began to read Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers together and some things immediately became clear to me.
It became clear to me that I had no idea what Jesus meant by a lot of what He said. It also became clear than my hermeneutic (the way I interpret Holy Scripture) was very different than the way the Fathers did. I had been trained to use historical critical methodology whereas the Fathers seemed to be much more “spiritual” and typological in their interpretation of Holy Scripture.
So I began to look at Holy Scripture a little differently. Specifically, I began to read Holy Scripture in a Christological way. Right about now you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about so let me get into these texts a bit.
I was told as a boy growing up in the home of a pastor that the point of being “saved” was to go to heaven. While that sounds really good, I have to say that does not square at all with what Holy Scriptures seem to give us. Rather than messages of “we’re going to heaven when we die,” the Bible seems to indicate that something even more radical will happen.
God will come here.
Look at our OT text for today: Isaiah 25:6-10. I’m going to be working from the KJV and Douay-Rheims today. Read that text slowly and look for the images it conjures in your mind. First, there is an image of a great feast; “a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lee, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”
This is a great feast of great abundance. This is the good stuff, as the saying goes. We see this image somewhere else, don’t we? We see it in the Gospel reading today but we see it again in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) chapters 19-21. But we’ll come back to that.
Keep reading the Isaiah text. The prophet tells us that the Lord of hosts will destroy the “veil” that covers all people, indicating that there is something that is covering us, blinding us to reality. He will swallow up death, He will wipe away tears, He will take away the “rebuke” of the people. Verse 9 tells us that He will “save us” and that, on this “mountain” we will “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” In verse 10 he tells us that “the hand of the Lord shall rest in this mountain (Douay-Rheims).”
Look at these images. These are images of wholeness, abundance and peace that are all linked with salvation.
Looks a little different than “we’re gonna get outta here and go to heaven.” Looks and sounds way better to me!
Now let’s consider our Gospel reading: Matthew 22:1-14. Here we have Jesus doing what He does and giving us a parable to explain things. Look at this text and the imagery we see. What jumps out? The word marriage or wedding is used eight times in both the KJV and Douay-Rheims. What imagery does this convey to us? It’s kind of echoing our Isaiah text in imagery. When we attend a wedding, the food is usually abundant and good, right? The wine (or other drinks) are typically flowing, people are dancing, laughing. It is a place and time of great joy! Jesus is telling us that this is what the Kingdom is like. This is what salvation is like!
The King Himself has set the banquet…and for what reason? The Son is getting married! Once again, this hearkens us to Revelation 19-21 and the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this wedding feast, these nuptials are open to all.
Look at the text. Some were invited but they chose not to go. Some who chose not to go also chose to murder the servants that invited them (the prophets). So what does the King say? “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid them to the marriage.” (KJV) All are invited to the marriage feast of the Son!
But just because you are invited doesn’t mean you can just “come as you are.” We see the stern warning in verses 11-14. Dress appropriately. What does that mean?
St. Augustine, and other Fathers, took this wedding garment to be charity. What does that mean? It means that our wedding garment is how we have lived our lives according to the virtues given to us by grace as we have obeyed the commands of God. Yes, you are welcome to the feast out of a free gift of grace, but you must be clothed in the garments given to us by living a virtuous life. When the King comes, you better be dressed appropriately.
St. John Chrysostom puts it this way,
“To enter with unclean garments, is to depart out of this life in the guilt of sin. For those are no less guilty of manifesting a contempt for the Deity, who presume to sit down in the filth of an unclean conscience, than those who neglected to answer the invitations of the Almighty. He is said to be silent, because having nothing to advance in his own defence, he remains self-condemned, and is hurried away to torments; the horrors of which words can never express.”
Let’s go back to our questions we started with. What do we think salvation means? What is the point of salvation?
King David tells us what salvation means. He tells us what the point of salvation is in our Psalm reading/chant today. Psalm 23 tells us,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Brothers and sisters, what a gift we’ve been given! Look at our readings today and see what God has given us.
He has given us all we need in the Son; we have no other wants.
He gives us the peace of green pastures and still waters in His love.
He restores our soul and leads us in the paths of righteousness.
He calms our fears by granting us the presence of His Spirit.
He prepares for us a feast of good things that we will partake of both now and finally at His great marriage supper when our cup will overflow and His love will dwell with us forever.
He will dwell with us, in His world, His house, forever and we shall have the goodness and mercy of God the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit forever and ever, world without end!
Thanks be to God!
When I first began to wander into the historic Church, one of the things I had to get used to was a lectionary. For my self sufficient, individualistic Protestant mindset, I was sure I didn’t need anyone to tell me what I should be reading from the Bible and when. But then I began to pay attention to the readings and I saw something amazing.
I began to see the Bible as a whole. Now yes, I had known that for awhile but we get lost sometimes I think in our “Bible reading plan.” We forget that the Old Testament and the New Testament are two sides to the same coin. I believe it was St. Augustine who said,
“The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
If we view this from a Christological standpoint (as we should when we come to ALL of Holy Scripture), then one could say that, in the OT we see Christ concealed or foreshadowed and in the NT we see Christ revealed.
I find such great richness in reading Holy Scripture this way, seeing it all as one organic whole.
Today’s readings for Mass illustrated this perfectly. The Old Testament lesson (reading) is from 1 Kings 19:9-13. I want us to consider verses 9 through the end of the chapter. You can go and read that now before proceeding. Elijah has just hiked for 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.
The place is super important in the Bible. This is the mountain where the law was given to the people of God who had just left slavery in Egypt. This is the mountain where God had revealed Himself to both Moses and the people of Israel. This is where Elijah has come. And why has he come?
He came to complain.
Look at the text. God asks Elijah what he’s doing there. Elijah replies by complaining. He basically says, “Look, I’ve been faithful. I’ve done what you asked me to do. But everyone else has abandoned you, no one worships you anymore. I’m the only one left and they want to kill me.”
And what does God say? He says, “Go out and stand on the mountain.” So Elijah does. The Scripture tells that a strong wind tore the mountain, breaking rocks before the Lord. An earthquake shook the mountain and fire scorched everything in sight. But the Lord was not in the wind or the quake or the fire. Then Elijah hears a whisper, a still small voice and he recognizes that Voice. He wraps his face in his cloak and goes out to hear what God will say.
Now, let’s skip to the gospel reading for the day. St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 14, verses 22-33. Go and read that before proceeding.
Jesus was also on a mountain, but praying, not complaining. When He comes down, the boat that His disciples took is a long way from shore and a wind has come up. Sound familiar?
So Jesus saunters up the boat…on the water. And, rightly so, the disciples are terrified. But, Jesus speaks. He speaks over the wind, telling them not to be afraid and assuring them that it is He. Then something really crazy happens. Peter says, in essence, “Jesus, I want you to prove that it’s you and I’m not seeing things. If it’s you, command me to come out to you on the water.”
In my mind, when I close my eyes and put myself there, I believe Jesus whispered. I believe His voice was so soft, so quiet in the chaos of the moment, with the wind howling and waves crashing. But Peter heard Him. Peter heard the whisper and he knew that voice.
That was the voice of God-in-the-flesh. That was the voice of One who walked on water, that was the voice of the One who had healed the sick and cleansed the lepers. That was the voice that Peter would follow forever.
So Peter steps out and walks on water. But it didn’t take long for Peter to fear. It didn’t take long for what was going on around Peter to distract him, to cause his faith to waver.
Elijah had the same problem. Elijah was discouraged and afraid. Elijah was distracted by the faithlessness of the people around him and it caused his faith to waver.
But here’s where we have hope.
That voice still speaks. That still, small whisper that spoke to Eiljah still speaks. If you read the rest of the chapter, God tells Elijah that there are thousands more like him, thousands more who are faithful.
That voice still speaks. That calm, still voice still beckons Peter from the boat and tells him not to be afraid. ‘Don’t be distracted. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t be faithless.’
All of Holy Scripture, all of life is about Jesus, the Christ of God. God-in-the-flesh has come. He still speaks to us, even when our faith is weak. He still speaks amidst the chaos of our world; not in the crashing of the wind and rocks tearing up around us, nor in the fire that seems to burn our very world away, nor in the crashing waves or rushing winds of the storm. He still speaks in that still, small voice, beckoning us to follow, be faithful, step out and fear not. When we are faithless, He is faithful.
He is faithful.
He is faithful.
Amen and amen!