We live in a really fractured world right now. So much arguing and fighting, so much hatred toward each other and toward God. I believe our readings this week really speak to the times in which we live and to our own hearts.
So let’s consider our readings for this week. I’m going to be focusing most of my comments on the Old Testament text and the Gospel text but we will bring in the Epistle text as well. Our texts for today are:
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10
When I first read through these texts, the concern for others immediately jumped off the page from the OT text. Let’s take a look at it. It’s interesting to me that the Exodus text starts out with a warning about sacrificing to other gods, then goes right into an admonition on how to treat the “stranger” among the people of Israel. What was God trying to say to them? It seems clear that He was tying proper worship and faith in Himself directly to how the Israelites treated others. In fact, He says to them in latter half of verse 22, “for yourselves also were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Douay-Rheims). God reminds them that they were once strangers, therefore they should treat the strangers among them well.
What does it mean when God says they were strangers? Well, from a literal view, they were not native Egyptians. In fact, they were slaves. I’d say that qualifies them as strangers. But let’s look deeper. If we are to read the Old Testament within the context of the Church, we see that the Church has seen in the Old Testament what is called types. In other words, the things we see in the OT (which are true and actually happened) foreshadow other things to come and point to those things. How, you’re thinking, does that apply here?
Well, remember how God starts off this admonition. He starts off by reminding the people not to worship other gods. And why? Because they were strangers. In fact, they were, once upon a time, strangers to the very person of God. It was only God’s choice of Abram (their forefather) that made them no longer strangers. Had not God shown grace and mercy to Abram by choosing him, there would have been no people of Israel. They would have been strangers. But now, through God’s undeserved mercy and grace, they are no longer strangers. Rather, they are the chosen people.
We’re kind of like this, aren’t we?
Actually, we’re not kind of like this, we are exactly like this. We were once alienated from God. The Israelites were held captive in a land that was not their own, under the tyranny and oppression of evil pharaohs who used them spitefully. And so were we once held captive in the wasteland of sin, held captive by the tyranny of our own sinful flesh and the under the thumb of Satan who had used us spitefully.
So just as God reminds the Israelites that they were once strangers and held captive, so are we to remember that we were once strangers and held captive…which leads us to our Gospel reading.
Jesus is approached by the Pharisees and asked a question. Being sticklers for the law, they ask Jesus which is the greatest commandment. It’s ironic that they ask Him this since they are the ones who literally added hundreds of rules to go along with the law. Anyways, they ask the question and notice Jesus’ response.
He says the greatest commandment (quoting Deut. 6:5) is “to love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.” (Douay-Rheims) Then He quotes Leviticus 19:18 saying, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.”
Jesus just did the same thing God the Father did in the Exodus text. He roots and grounds love of neighbor in love of God. In fact, He says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” In other words, our very salvation depends upon our ability to obey these two. By one, we are saved. By the other, we show forth our salvation.
But we need to understand what love is. Love does not mean remaining silent while our neighbor walks a path to Hell. In fact, our epistle reading today reminds us of something that we moderns don’t like talking about much. Look at our epistle reading quickly. St. Paul reminds us that there is a part of salvation that we don’t like considering: wrath. This is part of salvation that has, frankly, been left out of modern Christianity. God’s wrath is coming against those who reject Him and His Christ. Love demands that we call out to those who are in the path of God’s wrath to repent. If we don’t, we don’t get to say we really love them. Love wants our neighbor to be saved. It was, after all, God’s love toward us that prompted the coming of Christ in the eternal plan of salvation.
By our love for God and His Christ with our whole heart, soul and mind, we are saved.
By our love for our neighbor, we show forth our salvation.
The goodness and love of God toward us is the very engine of our salvation. His unmerited grace toward us is the second person of the Trinity, come in human flesh, Jesus the Christ!
By His perfect, sinless life, our flesh is made new.
By His death on the cross, our sins are forgiven.
By His resurrection, our new life is made sure.
Let this be the basis of our love for one another. Let us not be fractured and faithless. Let us rather remember that we too were once lost, strangers to the promises of God in Christ. But now, He has shown the greatest love of neighbor in giving of Himself on our behalf. Let us follow in the footsteps of our Savior and give of ourselves for the good and the salvation of others.
Thanks be to God!
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!