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August 21 2016 (C) Twenty-first Sunday of Year

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: For God’s kingdom tradition is not enough; response to the call of Jesus is required.

      

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Isaiah 66:18-21). They will bring all your kindred from all the nations. This reading is a very important passage, drawn from the final section of the book of Isaiah, that generally known as “Third Isaiah”. It is not quite certain when this section of the book was composed. It was probably quite late, and possibly shortly before the Greek period (312 B.C.). The passage was composed after much reflection on Israel’s part on the place of the pagan nations in God’s plan of salvation. The passage goes on to speak of the new heavens and the new earth which God is about to make. We are in the presence of an eschatological discourse on the new age, today’s section in prose, others in verse. Today’s reading contains a magnificent vision of the future. God is about to bring all the (non-Jewish) nations together, and they will see his glory – in Jerusalem no doubt. God is to give an unspecified sign. The sign is probably that Jerusalem and the Temple exist and will be at the chosen centre of what God is about to do. While mention is made of “some of the survivors” of the nations, we are not told anything about them, or from what they survive. The important point is made that God will send some of these pagan (non-Jewish) survivors out as missioners to named nations far removed from Israel. (On the named nations see Ezekiel 27:10-13.) The named nations, with approximate identification, are: Tarshish – Spain; Put – Libya; Mosech (in the Hebrew text, and dependent translations, such as NRSV: “who draw the bow”, archers) – Phrygia; Tubal – Cilicia; Javan – the Ionians or Greeks. (“Rosh” given in some translations is probably not part of the original text.) It seems clear that this part of the survivors has converted to belief in the God of Israel. Their mission is to proclaim the glory of God to those who have never heard of him or seen his glory. In this great vision of God’s message of salvation to the gentiles, God reminds Israel that they have not been forgotten. On the return from their mission, the survivors will have gifts for Israel. They will bring their (Jewish) kindred back from exile, in the various modes of transport mentioned, to Jerusalem (God’s holy mountain), as gifts to the Temple, just as the Jews themselves used to do. Then, in a final almost unbelievable statement, we are told by God that of some of the non-Jewish, gentile, survivors, he will make priests and Levites, without any mention descent from Levi or Aaron.

            It is a vision to be fulfilled in the New Testament and the Christian Church. The passage is a very apt one to accompany today’s Gospel reading.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 116[117]). Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News.

Second Reading (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-130. The Lord trains the one that he loves. This reading is a continuation of that read in last Sunday’s Mass. In that reading the author of this letter gives examples of “the great cloud of witnesses”, presented by him to his readers as examples to follow. In today’s reading he reminds them that in the difficulties they are experiencing God is acting as a father, and that they should view their problems in this light. According to the teaching of the Old Testament (the author cites Proverbs 3:11-12) one of the duties of a father is to train his children. If his readers accept their difficulties in this light, they are being trained in Christian living, a training that generates perseverance, a virtue on which the writer in this letter lays great emphasis.

The Gospel (Luke 13:22-30). People from the east and west will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. The work known as The Testament of Abraham is a Jewish writing, outside of the biblical canon, containing Jewish traditions probably known or current in Palestine in Jesus’ day. According tor this writing God sent the angel Michael to Abraham to tell him that the time was due for him to leave this world for the next. Michael acts accordingly, but Abraham demands that he be first given a view of the entire world. This he is granted from a cloud above the earth; but when Abraham sees people sinning he asks Michael to have them out to death. Out of consideration for sinners and of the time they would require to repent, God tells Michael to take Abraham immediately to heaven. On his journey there Abraham sees two gates, one narrow with few passing through and the other wide for crowds. With such a background, it is easy understand the question addressed to Jesus by the individual. Jesus’ reply is addressed not to the individual but to the crowd, to Israel in general possibly. Jesus gives no reply as to the number of those saved, but stresses, rather, repentance and the need to be ready to enter by the narrow door, as many will try but not succeed.

            The second section of this reading, addressed apparently to all Israel, is connected with the first by the catchword “door”. This is a sort of parable, on the theme of a locked, rather than a narrow, door. Its message is that it is not sufficient for Israel to say that they knew Jesus as one of their own, one who walked, ate and taught among them. Here Jesus himself is the master of the house, and his reply is that he does not know them. He describes them as wicked people, without specifying their sins. They are rejected because of their lack of faith in Jesus, in his mission and in his person.

            The final section makes the purpose of the parable clear. It is judgment on Israel and the calling of the gentiles to replace them. There is clear reference to the messianic feast in the age to come, here twice referred to as the kingdom of God, as in other places in Luke (14:15, 16-24; 22:16, 18, 30). In the place of God’s chosen people Israel, now turned away, there will be gentiles from all four corners of the globe.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: For God’s kingdom tradition is not enough; response to the call of Jesus is required.

In today’s gospel reading, as in many other places in the gospels, Jesus gives a clear message to his contemporaries and his own people. The promises made to the patriarchs were a great honour, and many pious Jews might believe that by reason of these promises Israel was safe, that God was bound by his promises irrespective of any response made to God’s call through Jesus. Jesus’ clear warning was that this was not so, that they could lose their status as the chosen people, a warning that was given effect by his death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

            An equally clear lesson to be drawn by us from this is that one’s national tradition is not sufficient in matters relating to belief in God and in Christ. We have seen how many of the nations of the old world have lost the faith. The Church moves ahead to new nations and countries. It is too facile an answer to say that this is a matter of “coming of age” and of leaving superstition and fairy tales behind. There is a deeper dimension to faith, which is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. Faith needs to be nourished – in the soul, in the heart, in the mind through knowledge. It is not sufficient to think that fidelity to the faith in the past, of persecutions suffered for its sake, will guarantee it in the present. A living faith is required, faith in the living God, listening to the voice of Jesus speaking now as he did to his own people while on earth.

            We have rich material for reflection here; material also for dialogue among ourselves on the response to be made to the challenges facing our belief in God, in Christ and in the Church.