21st Sunday of Ordinary time, cycle C

21st August 2016

The first reading is from the last section of the book of Isaiah (66:18:21). The Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon, and exiles from all-over are returning to Jerusalem; and not just them it says but all nations, people referred to as Gentiles, will be welcomed by God into his Jerusalem. This is an expression of the universality of God’s love; it is for all people whatever religion or nationality they are; this is an idea that was much debated among the Jews and has been among Christians even to this day – but it seems quite clear here in the Old Testament. The psalm that follows the reading in Christian services, with its refrain, “Go out into the world and tell the Good News” continues this theme of the universality of salvation.

The second reading (Hebrews 12:5-13 passim) follows on from last week’s second reading with a reminder to those felt hard done by God; it quotes from the book of Proverbs (3:11f and 4:26). The writer seems to have two parallels for the way God treats us and the way we should react. The first is a parent who must discipline the child to help them to mature; it is an act of love. The second is the physiotherapist prescribing exercises to be done which are often hard to undergo but worth it for the overall good result. Both of these images would be known to the original readers and are understood equally by us today. Though it is a hard lesson to learn when we appear to suffer from our parent and trainer – our God!

In today’s gospel reading (Luke 13:22-30) we are back with Luke’s theme of presenting Jesus as on a journey of preaching and work for the kingdom of God that will climax in Jerusalem with His arrest and execution. But the striking bit is a question from ‘someone’ and the repy. Luke has other sections stimulated by a ‘someone’ (a lawyer/woman); the person here raises the question which has surfaced again and again in the history of the Jews about the restriction of salvation to a few when there has been a general lapse from devotion to Yahweh, their God. The reply that Luke has Jesus make is a collage from various Christian traditions at that time, both oral and written, about Jesus’ preaching – getting through a narrow door, a house master shutting out people unknown to him, the expectation of the Jews to be saved by ‘their’ man Jesus, the bitterness of the Jews left out while others from across the whole world join the heavenly banquet – finishing with the contrast of the first and the last – thoughts expressed in Matthew and Mark as well. The whole represents the situation Luke has experienced, namely, the first chosen people, the Jews, seem to have not accepted Jesus, though hopefully they will in the end, but for now it is the second people, the Gentiles, who are the prominent followers of the Way of Jesus.

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