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!
Humility is a huge problem in our world today.
I should rephrase that. The lack of humility is a huge problem in our world today.
If you don’t believe me, just scroll through your social media feeds. Or, watch the news or a political speech. The lack of humility will smack you in the face. I want to be totally clear here. I lack humility in many aspects of my life as well so it’s not like you’re alone. This is part of the human condition.
Humility has never been something that has been applauded by the culture at large. Even in most ancient cultures, humility was seen as weakness. And that is what makes this week’s readings…actually, pretty much all of Jesus’ ministry as well…so hard for us.
We have a problem with humility. Let’s just all admit it and learn. We good? Okay, onward. As I began to read and reflect on the readings for this week, this word humble just jumped off the pages at me. So I’d like us to consider all four readings today and see what we can learn.
It’s interesting that we are reminded again (like last week’s readings) that God is not like us. Which brings me to something. A friend and I this week were lamenting about what we felt like was a loss of the sense of the holiness of God. We saw a picture, an artist’s rendering, of Jesus. It was like “surfer Jesus.” I mean, dude (in the picture) was all good looking with his hair blowing gently in the breeze, rocking a golden tan, a bright smile and a very well coiffed beard. It was a picture clearly designed to make you feel good about Jesus.
I want to be clear. Jesus is our friend, our elder brother and gentle and kind and tender and compassionate. But He is also God and therefore is to be given reverent worship. Even his disciples who hung out with Him and ate lunch with Him fell on their face before Him when His glory was revealed.
When we approach God, we need to remember Who we are approaching. I fear that our desire to make God approachable has reduced in our own minds the reverence required of us when we approach Him. Yes, God is loving and wants us to come to Him. But He is also terrible. His holiness is so “other” than what we are that we must approach with great humility. We need to cultivate in our own hearts, the prophet reminds us, the humility to submit to God. We need the humility to submit to His will, His law.
The promise of humility is life.
We sing with the psalmist about the ways of God that come to us only by humble submission. We beg our God to make His way known, to teach us, to guide us, to remember His compassion and His love. These are all expressions of humility and submission to our Savior. I wonder how often we reflect on the words of the Psalms we sing/chant every Sunday? This is the prayer book of the Church and has been sung or chanted for thousands of years by the people of God, both Old and New Covenant people. I don’t know about you but I love knowing every Sunday that we join in the chorus of the saints of God who have sung His praise in the words of the Psalter for thousands and thousands of years. There is a humility and joy that is to be embraced here. After all, our Psalm this week reminds us,
“He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”
The promise of humility is learning the ways of God.
In our gospel reading, Jesus teaches the religious leaders….and us. He shows us, in this pericope, that we need the humility to admit our need for a Savior. The tax collectors and prostitutes were “not holy.” The religious leaders believed they were. They were depending on their own goodness. They were “good people.”
I feel like we need to pause here for a second and ask ourselves a hard question. Are we depending on our own “goodness” to “get us to heaven?” Let me be a little more clear. I hear far too many people who claim to be Christian and/or Catholic who say that the goal of faith is to be a “good person.” That implies that we are able, out of our own goodness, to merit salvation. This is not at all what the Holy Scriptures teach us nor what the Church has ever taught. We cannot earn our salvation by our own goodness. It is impossible.
Our salvation can only come through Jesus, the Christ of God and only begotten Son. It is only by faith in Him, which is a gift of grace, that we may merit salvation. That is not to say that we should not be “good” and cooperate with the Holy Spirit and Christ is their work of redemption and sanctification in our lives. Indeed we should. But our goodness, apart from Christ, will always fall short.
In our gospel reading, the religious leaders were “good people.” The tax collectors and prostitutes knew they weren’t. Again, our goodness will not earn the grace of God. His grace is offered freely; it is our response that makes all the difference. The good believe God owes them for their goodness. The sinners humbly recognize their need and come begging for mercy, washing the feet of Jesus with their tears. The sinner’s response to God’s grace is appreciation, adoration and obedience out of the overflow of their love and gratitude.
The promise of humility is salvation.
The question I often have asked is, “Okay fine, but what exactly does humility look like?” How, we ask ourselves, are supposed to live with a humble mindset? I’m glad you asked! St. Paul tells us in our Epistle text today. I love how he starts off by tying humility to joy. Humility leads us to joy. That joy is ultimately seen in the exaltation of Christ. What does that mean, you may ask? Well, consider our text. Look at these beautiful and poignant words penned by the great apostle,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Oh brothers and sisters, we have not been left to guess at what humility looks like! We have One who has gone before us to show us the way! We have One who brings us into participation with Him in His humility if we will but look to Him and follow Him! Christ has emptied Himself, humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the will of the Father. This is our example of humility! This is our example of holiness! This is our example of goodness!
And what is the result of Christ’s humility on our behalf?
He has been exalted and given the name above all names!
At His feet every knee will bow!
From every tongue will come the cry, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”
The promise of humility is the person of Christ!
Thanks be to God!