The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21 August 2022
Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7.11-13; Luke 13:22-30
Theme: The God who gathers the outcast and the nations of every language
Our reading from Isaiah today concludes the book of that prophet, giving a daring, all-inclusive vision of the future, when God will be all in all. Not only will God come, but God will gather: “the God who gathers the outcast” (Isaiah 56:8) will now gather “the nations of every language”, so that all will see God’s glory, recognizing the Eternal as their sovereign. Messengers will go where the news of God has never been before, witnessing to the cosmic splendor of the one who both inhabits eternity and dwells among the humble and contrite. All will be welcome to Jerusalem, to be part of the covenant and live according to Torah. Amazingly, some from among these gentile nations will be given the roles of priests – to handle holy objects, and of Levites – to interpret Jewish Torah. The vision is indeed large and comprehensive.
The tiny Psalm 117 expresses the perfect form of a hymn of praise. Rich in its simplicity, it echoes the same message as Isaiah: God’s faithful love for God’s people Israel, a love spoken of repeatedly throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, is now extended to all nations. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul would quote the first verse of this psalm to support his belief that God’s loving purpose in Christ reaches out also to the gentiles (Romans 15:11).
Luke, in his Gospel, reminds his readers of Jesus’ definitive journey to Jerusalem, which will be the climax and focal point of his ministry. He reminds them also of the urgency which this journey proclaims and the radical, costly response it calls for. Nothing must be taken for granted. There is a stern warning that many, having been invited by Jesus to follow him but failed to respond, will not discern the reality of their situation until it’s too late. Jesus here challenges the whole concept of religious privilege. Those who will stand outside knocking are former table companions who listened to his teaching but did not follow it. They will be excluded. No one can rely on a privileged position or even religious heritage: for people will come from the four corners of the earth to eat in the kingdom of God, echoing Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 25:6-8). So, we are faced with the paradox of exclusion and inclusion. There will be a remnant, the few who will enter by “the narrow gate”, perhaps bowed down – and with stragglers coming along, too (the “last who will be first”). So, we must understand what it means to enter by that narrow gate. Narrow gates sometimes lead into gardens and humble homes and often we even must stoop to enter them. This recalls Mary’s Magnificat, which we read last week for the feast of her Assumption, where the lowly will be exalted, as well as Luke’s concern for the marginalized and suffering people in our world whom Jesus will welcome (Luke 4:16-30).
In our reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews, its author speaks of our endurance in following Christ. A few verses before he has said: “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection” (12:2). If we consider ourselves as “sons” (or, indeed, daughters!), then suffering is particularly required for those who share the status of the Son, Jesus: “In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death”(12:4). The discipline which is called for “bears fruit in peace and goodness”. It will lead us to holiness and the source of all holiness, our loving God. For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Who is God for you? How has your image of God changed over your years of prayer and the reading of the Scripture? 2. How is Jesus ‘your way, your truth and your life’? Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Margaret Shepherd NDS, England, Bat Kol Alumna/Alumnus