Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time: 8-21-16
Peace be with You,
Last weekend, we heard the disquieting message that the road of discipleship is often one that is lonely as living a life in accordance with the gospel will lead us to live in a way that is not only much different than the rest of the world, but in many cases flies in the face of what the world teaches, leading to persecution of various degrees. This weekend, we find a message that both continues the theme that discipleship is difficult, and offers comforting words of inclusion.
Our first reading from Isaiah presents us with a hopeful message of inclusion. Therein, we find the prophet relating the message that God will come to ‘gather all nations and tongues to come and worship on His holy mountain,’ a similar message to that which we find expressed by Jesus in today’s gospel (cf. Is. 66:18 & 20, Luke 13:29). That this is a message hope is quite obvious given our day in age where hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear of some act of violence being committed by one people against another, quite often claiming that it is their religious ideology that calls them to act in such a fashion. This being the state of world affairs it is at one and the same time difficult to imagine a situation where all peoples could come together to worship their Creator in peace, but a message that we would like to hope in as well. However, this message of hope does not end here. For, it is not just the restoration of peace that the prophet speaks of, but rather, it is the restoration of the human family to its rightful relationship to our God.
From the beginning of salvation history in Genesis to its culmination on Calvary, it has been the intention of our God that we might live in perfect harmony with Him and with one another. Perfect harmony with our God entails that we offer Him right praise, i.e. that we commit the whole of our lives and all that we have been given as a complete offering to Him in love. For this reason, whenever we find that right praise is not being offered to God (e.g. the offering of Cain), that the human family has taken steps to pursue its own designs as opposed to that of the purpose for which they have been created (e.g. at Babel), or that people are being prevented from the worship of their God (e.g. Exodus), God intervenes in order that this situation might be remedied. The culmination of this intervention takes place on Calvary, where having bridged the chasm between heaven and earth with His total gift of self on behalf of the human family, the Only Begotten Son of God breathes his last saying, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
What we find here are the actions of a lover on behalf of His beloved, a beloved so cherished that the lover will do everything in His power to eliminate all that separates them. That being said, as with any true love, the Lover will not force the beloved to choose Him. For, although He is willing to do all that He can to make this unity possible, He knows that no loving relationship can exist if not freely chosen.
We may ask, if this is really the case, then why the ominous words of Jesus in the gospel today where we find Him telling us that ‘many will not enter through the narrow gate,’ forced to stand outside the Father’s house essentially disowned by Him (cf. Luke 13:24 & 27). After all, if God really wants to be with us so badly, why does it really matter what we do?
My friends, the answer is quite simple. There is only one way to actively demonstrate to God that we in fact do love Him and that is to love Him with all our heart, soul mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Luke 10:27). If we wonder what it looks like to love God and neighbor in this way, we need only look to one place, the cross. It is the cross that serves as our template for success, if you will. For, it is only those who willingly give the whole of themselves in love for the sake of others that can be said to truly love God as we are told most poignantly by Jesus in The Judgment of the Nations (Matthew 25:31-46).
Of course this sounds far easier to do than it actually is in practice. After all, we are not called to love just those who love us, but to love all, i.e. desire the absolute good for all. And, given the message that we heard last weekend, if we choose to live a life in accordance with the gospel, it is highly probable that we will spend a great deal of time and energy loving those who do not reciprocate this good will. It is for this reason that the author of Hebrews tells us today that we are to view our trials as discipline, for it is this increase in discipline that will one day lead us to ‘share in the holiness of God’ (Hebrews 12:10).
My friends, to share in the holiness of God is nothing else than to share in His very life! It is this that we have been created for, and it is a glorious call indeed. What’s more, it is a call that we all share, regardless of race or creed, for it is our mutual calling as human beings. However, we must remember that it is not on our terms that we climb the mountain of God where we will share in this life eternal. Rather, this mountain can only be scaled by following in the footsteps of Him Who is the Way, Jesus Christ. This Sunday it is the Way Who tells us that many will not enter in through this narrow gate. Why? They will look to where His footsteps lead and see a place of suffering and death instead of seeing it for what it really is; the place of total love, complete happiness and eternal life. This Sunday, choose to see what many don’t and live what you see. In doing so you will not only be assured that the path you follow leads to a life of glory, but that the love you live will bring all, at one and the same time, one step closer to one another, and one step further up God’s mountain.
Your servant in Christ,