The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – 25 August 2019
Lectionary readings: Isa 66:18-21; Ps. 117; Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 10:8-13; Lk 13:22-30

What an interesting collection of readings we are presented with today. At the heart of my commentary this week is the question “Who will be saved?”

In the first reading we hear Deutero-Isaiah’s vision of a “universal recognition of the LORD and the ingathering of exiles” (Berlin, 898). Here, the saving of the exiles is also connected with that of the nations and we even see the possibility of members of other nations serving as priests in the temple in Jerusalem (Isa 66:22), as “from new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath…all flesh” (kal basar) gathers to worship the Eternal One (66:23).

Today’s first reading is also part of the Haftarah reading for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (Isa 66:1-24) – read when the beginning of the lunar month falls on a Shabbat. Michael Fishbane, describing this universal salvific vision, notes that the renewal of the moon each month can bee seen as symbolising “the hope for a future fellowship of all nations on earth.” He goes on to note that the moon is not the source of the light that it reflects. Thus, people are invited “to deepen their receptivity to a higher radiance, so that they may be connected to a divine dimension and reflect it outward into the world” (Fishbane, 235).

In Psalm 117, the shortest in the Psalter, all the nations are called to praise the Eternal One (v. 1) who has shown steadfast love and faithfulness to us (v. 2). Berlin & Brettler (1400), note that the psalmist is referring to God’s saving of Israel from its enemies. Medieval commentator Rabbi David Kimhi (Radak) sees this psalm as applying to the messianic age when the nations will give praise to the Eternal One for being faithful “to Israel throughout the long period of the Diaspora” (ibid.).

In the passage from Hebrews the author is urging those to whom this letter is addressed to persevere through their suffering, which is described as “discipline” (paideia) dispensed by God. Here too, “salvation” is something to be looked forward to. However, the Greek word paideia can also refer to “the process of creating virtuous, skilled, and cultured citizens” (Coogan, 2162). Might there then be some element of salvation offered in the here and now, reflected by those to whom the author is addressing?

Finally, we come to the gospel and the question, “Lord, are those who are being saved few in number?” Luke Timothy Johnson (Kindle loc. 5072) notes that the question employs the present participle sōzō, which changes the focus of the passage from some eschatological future to the present moment of Jesus’ earthly proclamation of the Reigning of God (basileia). Similarly (JANT, 144), the question also echoes the concerns of apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period, such as 4 Ezra, as well as the prophetic writings of the Tanakh (cf. Isa 6:13; 10:20-22; Jer 23:23). Just as God’s work of salvation is present in the ministry of Jesus, its fulfilment looks to a messianic age when “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29).

Who is being saved? Who will be saved? This is for the Eternal One to decide. We are simply invited to remember God’s saving acts in our histories, give praise to the Eternal One by reflecting God’s divine light, and continue to participate in the Reigning of God.

For Reflection and Discussion: How do I reflect God’s divine light to others? Is my understanding of God large enough to include the salvation of all people, or do I believe that only a few will be saved? What else do these passages reveal about God’s saving presence in our world?

Bibliography: Berlin & Brettler eds. The Jewish Study Bible: 2nd ed (Oxford, 2014); Coogan ed. New Oxford Annotated Bible, 5th ed. (Oxford, 2018); Fishbane, The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarah (JPS, 2002); Johnson, The Gospel of Luke (Liturgical Press, 1991); Levine & Brettler eds. The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 2nd Edn (Oxford, 2017).

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