21st Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Readings: Isaiah 66:18‑21 Hebrews 12:5‑7,11‑13
We are all capable of being narrow and parochial in our religious attitudes toward "outsiders." This Sunday's readings challenge us to be open to the universality of God's plan for salvation. Let us take to heart the lyrics of our psalm: "Praise the Lord, all you nations;/ glorify him, all you peoples" (Ps 117:1).
Our first reading is from the conclusion of the entire book of the prophet Isaiah. It is taken from the portion that scholars call Third Isaiah which was probably written in the late sixth century B.C. after the Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem but before they had rebuilt the temple. This prophet, in contrast to some of his elitist fellow Judeans, announces that after the purification of Jerusalem, Jewish survivors will be sent by God to the nations and distant coastlands to proclaim his glory to those who "have never heard of (God's) fame." In God's name, the prophet proclaims: “They shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the Lord/ . . . to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the Lord,/ just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels.” He even dares to announce in God's name: "Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the Lord."
The reading from Hebrews continues directly from last week's section in which Jesus, who endured the cross, is presented to us as our model for persevering "in running the race" of faith. Using a quotation from Proverbs 3:11‑12, the author reminds us that the Lord disciplines those whom he loves. The trials we meet in being faithful Christians should be understood as the loving discipline of our Father. In the language of the Hellenistic philosophy of the day, the author uses an athletic metaphor to conclude his exhortation. “Make straight the paths you walk on, that your halting limbs may not be dislocated but healed."
In the Gospel from Luke Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem and warns the crowds that entrance into the messianic banquet is difficult. Someone in the crowd asks, "Lord, are they few in number who are to be saved?" Rather than answer directly, Jesus responds with a series of parabolic warnings, using the image of the door. First of all he replies, “Try to come in through the narrow door. Many, I tell you will try to enter and be unable.” Then, changing the door image, he warns that some may be too late in responding to the call of the kingdom. "When once the master of the house has risen to lock the door and you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Sir, open for us,' he will say in reply, `I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets.' But he will answer, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Away from me you evildoers!'"Entrance into the messianic banquet calls for a radical change of heart; mere social contact with Jesus is not enough.
Finally, Jesus warns the crowd that they may be rejected from the final messianic feast and replaced by the Gentiles.“And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. People will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and will take their place at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Jesus concludes by asserting that God's kingdom overturns our worldly standards: “Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last.”