The Word for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Psalm 117:1, 2
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Our first reading opens with the prophet Isaiah with a passage from the closing chapter. These later Isaiah passages speak of a new Heaven and a new Earth, and here the Lord says he will send fugitives to all nations to proclaim the Lord’s glory and lead them to the new Jerusalem. The choice of the word “fugitives” seems odd, but is a bit more understandable when you consider that the passage is from, for lack of a better description, Isaiah’s Final Judgment discourse. While what we read here seems pleasant enough (God calling all nations together), it is part of a larger prophecy that reminds us that not all will be coming to this new Jerusalem (using a rather unpleasant example of what happens to those who rebelled against the Lord.
Our second reading, a continuation of our journey through Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, telling us not to “disdain the discipline of the Lord…” noting that it is discipline that brings the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
Then in our Gospel from Luke, we have another reminder that not everyone will be saved. You may recall that we’ve spend the Summer traveling with Jesus as he makes his long journey to Jerusalem. As he continues his travels, some asks him if only a few will be saved, to which Jesus replies that many will not be “strong enough” to get through the narrow gate (again, an interesting translation with the phrase “strong enough”).
Our readings these past few weeks have been difficult. Challenging. Challenging to our complacent notion of God’s seemingly infinite capacity for forgiveness. Challenging to our relatively comfortable lives and times. Last week we had Jesus calling for the Earth to be set on fire and dividing households. Now Jesus, reminiscent of this week’s final chapter of Isaiah, tells us that there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth” as not all are let into the Heavenly banquet.
Brothers and sisters, I can’t sugar-coat this for you... Following Jesus…living the Christian life, is not easy. While we Catholics tend to shy away from the “fire and brimstone – hell and damnation” preaching of many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, favoring instead to focus on God’s love for us, we can’t and shouldn't forget that we will be judged by how well we follow God’s command… which Jesus taught us - Love God and love our neighbor. It sounds easy enough when we’re in the moment… but this is the Law that binds us continuously. Not “once in a while.” Not “when I have time.” Always. What we did yesterday only counts for yesterday. What are we doing today? Tomorrow? God wants us to better ourselves, to stretch ourselves. He wants us to overcome every new obstacle, to reach new heights. To never stop growing... evolving... because it will bring us ever closer to him.
Jesus came to challenge the status-quot. To shake us out of our complacency. To stir us to action. The Second Vatican Council taught us that we need to be active participants in our faith… not just watching on the sidelines, but getting into the game. Our readings this week shouldn't cause us to be afraid or discouraged, they should be reminders to push us forward, to do better, to rouse us to action. Does God expect perfection? No. Is God willing to forgive us our sins? YES. But God also wants us to learn from our mistakes and move on. The past is the past… not only for our sins, but for our accomplishments. What have you done for God today? What have you done for your neighbor today? This is the ongoing challenge of the Christian life. But the beauty is that we don’t travel this road alone. God and our neighbors are with us… we journey together.