Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Promises Fulfilled

The Babylonian exile was the height of tragedy for the Jewish people. Torn from their homeland, their Temple destroyed, they were cut off from everything they loved. Even God seemed distant. They knew they had sinned and broken the covenant. At least some of them knew they had received exactly what they deserved. But hadn't God sworn a covenant oath to them? Didn't He consider them His children? Where was He now? Why had He abandoned them?

In today's First Reading from Isaiah 66, God has a message for His exiled people. There is a reason for this time of exile, something beyond Israel's sins and the strength of foreign powers. God has sent His people among the Gentile nations as a sign and a witness. As fugitives, they will spread out across the world, bringing with them their faith in the one true God. They will proclaim God's glory and fame to nations that have never heard of Him. They will show the Gentiles Who God is. 

God also has a promise for the Jews. They will come home, but they will not be alone. God tells them that 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...” Israel will bring the Gentiles home with them! The nations will arrive in Jerusalem in great numbers, by every known means of transportation. The Jews will invite their Gentile brothers and sisters to join them in the true worship of the true God, for thanks to the witness of the exiles, they will know Who He is and what He expects. 

God ends with another promise: “Some of these I will take as priests and Levites...” This must have shocked the Jews. God would make the Gentiles into priests and Levites? He would let them serve in the Temple? He would actually allow them to offer sacrifice? Yes, He will. And He did.

In today's Gospel (Luke 13:22-30), Jesus repeats the promises God made through Isaiah. Listen again to His words.

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.

Jesus is speaking to the Jews, who tend to be too confident that they will be saved simply because they are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Jesus says that this false confidence won't get them very far. Unless they “strive to enter through the narrow gate,” to live the life Jesus has proclaimed and expects, they will be left outside the Kingdom. 

For behold,” Jesus continues, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” The Jews may have been the first to know God's revelation and to enter into a covenant with Him, but unless they are willing to progress, to keep moving forward, they will be last. The Gentiles, who have been the last to hear about God but are eager to accept His message and follow Him, will be first. They will come to His feast. They will dine with Him in the kingdom. 

We are those Gentiles whom God has collected into His kingdom. He has made some of our number priests to offer sacrifice. He has allowed us to share in His feast. Take a few moments today to be grateful for promises fulfilled.

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