Tuesday, August 23, 2016

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Judgment Day.  Christian teaching tells us that at the end of our lives, or at the end of days, we will be called to account for everything we’ve done (or not done) in this life.  This has lead to some very powerful sermons (particularly from our Protestant brothers and sisters) on the need to repent and follow the Lord.  While we Catholics tend to shy away from this kind of fire-and-brimstone preaching (seeking instead to focus on God’s ever-present mercy), the truth remains that not everyone is going to be welcomed into paradise:

Isaiah 66:18-21
Psalm 117:1, 2
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30

Our first reading comes from the final chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  The reading itself seems pleasant enough… a story of bringing the nations together under the Lord.  What we miss, however, is the larger context from which this passage comes… which is from Isaiah’s “Final Judgment” discourse.  Note that the passage says, “I will send fugitives to the nations…” In this case, these “fugitives” are those who have escaped the Lord’s wrath against those who do not follow his command… a reminder that what happened to Jerusalem under the Babylonians can happen again.  But these fugitives will go far and wide to gather in those who do believe, making them priests and Levites… leaders of a new chosen people that include all who proclaim God’s glory.  This call to action is echoed in our Psalm as we sing, "Go out to all the world and tell the Good News."

Our gospel from Luke continues our journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem.  As he travels someone asks if only a few will be saved.  But as is typical, Jesus doesn’t give him a straight forward answer.  Instead, he tells him that not everyone will be strong enough… that there will be those who say they know him, but instead will be left out where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.”  For you see, the man asking the question is like us… good, law abiding citizens who follow religious teachings, wanting to get some affirmation that they will see paradise.  But remember last week’s gospel, where Jesus said he came to stir things up, wanting to break us out of our complacency.  Jesus isn’t going to say to this fellow, “Sure, you’re OK.”  Instead, Jesus wants to know what you’re going to do for him today, and tomorrow, and the next day.  This isn’t to say that what you did yesterday wasn’t good… but that’s the past.  What are you doing for Jesus now?  What are you going to do for Jesus tomorrow?

Our second reading, a continuation of our journey through the letter to the Hebrews, sums this up another way.  The author teaches that, For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.”  All relationships come with some element of heartache.  All parent-child relationships, like our relationship to the Father, includes some things that we don’t find pleasant or convenient… but in the end help build character and perseverance.  To take what we learned today, and build on that for tomorrow.  To never stop growing.

Final thoughts:
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 always 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’re on this journey together.

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