The First Reading is from the Book of Exodus. This passage illustrates that there is an integral connection between love of God and love of neighbor. It especially underlines the call of the men in Israel to care for three groups of vulnerable people: women, orphans, and aliens. The words “I will kill you with the sword” are not to be taken literally. Rather, they are intended to convey how abominable it is in God’s eyes to fail to care for the most vulnerable in their midst. Therefore, "Neighbor" is anyone with whom we come in contact. "Love" in this usage is meant to include all the components of that word: Respect, Helpfulness, Forgiveness, etc. Finally, Love of God and love of neighbor, especially the needy, are intimately connected.
The First Reading is from the Prophet Isaiah. The Prophet has been given a message from God to Cyrus, King of Persia, who has just defeated the King of Babylonia in the 6th century BC. The great Persian Emperor Cyrus will be made part of God’s saving plan for His chosen people. Cyrus is told that it was by the hand of God that he was successful in his battles and that God will use him to great advantage if he follows God's instructions. What makes this decree extraordinary is that it is addressed to a pagan king, Cyrus who was not a Jew, but he recognized true authority when faced with it and, in humility, he bowed in favor of the God of the Israelites.
In the First Reading from Isaiah we have a graphic description of the great banquet that the Lord will prepare not only for the people of Israel, but for all people who hear and answer God’s call. The “veil” or all that separates us from God will be lifted and the spider’s “web” that imprisons us in ignorance and isolation will be brushed aside. At this banquet, there will be rich food and fine wines, there will be neither mourning nor death.
In today’s First Reading, Isaiah describes the misuse and abuse of the people of Israel by their leaders as being like vines ripe for cultivation and left unattended. The Lord had prepared Israel like a fine vineyard, and Israel’s leaders like vintners with everything at their disposal to be fruitful and successful. What the Lord received instead were wild grapes. The vineyard fails to respond to God’s gracious care. The leaders of Israel were expected to cultivate justice and peace in their subjects, and they didn’t.