The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the hope that you will enter more fully into the Mass
“Behold, Some Are Last Who Will Be first”
Our scripture readings for this Sunday focus our attention on the end times, the final gathering of Israel and the nations into the New Jerusalem. God’s mercy and invitation will call all peoples (Israelites and Gentiles) into relationship with him. Even so said Jesus, all who enter must enter through the “narrow gate”; thus it will not be easy.
In our first reading from the end of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 65:18-21), we hear a final prophesy of Isaiah to uplift the Jews were returning to Jerusalem from exile. God will gather “nations of every language” (Gentiles) to see his glory. He will then send them out to gather all the lost people of Israel and bring them back. Some of these Gentiles, God will even take as priests.
Thus says the LORD: I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations: to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the LORD in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD.
In our Epistle reading (Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13), the author instructs his readers (and us) that their current trials can be seen as a form of training, or discipline from a loving father for the purpose of future peace and righteousness. Rather than losing heart, we should endure our trails with courage as a form of “discipline.”
Brothers and sisters, You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: "My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges." Endure your trials as "discipline"; God treats you as sons. For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.
In our Gospel reading (Luke 13:22:30), Jesus taught a stern message to his followers - those who were initially called but who reject God shall, by their own actions, be denied entry into the Kingdom; while those from afar (Gentiles) who do accept God will be welcomed to the table of the Master. Thus “some are last who will be first.”
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" He answered them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open the door for us.' He will say to you in reply, 'I do not know where you are from. And you will say, 'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.' Then he will say to you, 'I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!' 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. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
There are many messages that can be gleaned from today’s readings, but here are three: 1) God’s invitation to relationship with him is universal—all people and all nations will be gathered into his glory; 2) Those who go through life just going through the motions, paying lip service to their faith and relationship with God, may find themselves on the outside looking in; and 3), rather than disdain and turning away from God, we should embrace our trials and difficulties as an opportunity to more closely unite with our suffering Jesus, keeping our eyes on the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” that will surely come.
Read and reflect on this Sunday's Scripture Readings at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090119.cfm