21st Sunday 2019
Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13; Luke 13:22-30
Last week’s readings, if you recall, were somewhat disturbing. Today, we have something of a mixture of the encouraging and the disturbing.
We begin with an uplifting text from the Book of Isaiah. The prophet foresees people pouring into Jerusalem from the whole of the known world, being accepted among the people of God, serving Him as priests, ministering at His altar.
So far, so positive, and in many ways we see this prophecy being fulfilled. God’s people do indeed come today from the whole world: we have a Pope from Latin America, and several religious orders are now centred in Africa or Asia, rather than in Europe. Forty years ago, it was earth-shaking when a non-Italian was elected Pope: at the last papal election, short odds were offered on an African Pope.
There is encouragement too from the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who reminds us that we are sons and daughters of God. Perhaps we need to ponder that thought more often than we do. To be a child of God—to be able to address God as our Father as we do every day—is an awesome privilege from which we should draw consolation and joy.
This positive message, though, comes with a caveat, a warning. As sons and daughters of God, we are subject to God’s discipline: in other words, we will have to carry the Cross. “Suffering is part of your training” we are told. If Jesus the Son of God, had to suffer, then we, as His adopted brothers and sisters, will suffer in our turn, and the closer we draw to Him, the greater will be our share in the Cross.
That word of caution is spelt out still more sharply in the Gospel, where Jesus urges us to enter by the narrow door, and warns us that, if we have not truly tried to know Him, then the influx of outsiders will be at our expense.
It seems ironic that, for the second successive week, the most disturbing words come from the Lord Himself, the Redeemer, the lover of humankind, and that they are reported by St. Luke, the scriba mansuetudinis Christi—the one who writes of the gentleness of Christ. There is no place here for the “Smile, Jesus loves you” approach to living the Gospel: we are being called very firmly to know Jesus intimately, and this will involve the discipline to which the writer to the Hebrews referred; it will entail carrying the Cross.
We need to be conscious here of the setting in which Our Lord is speaking. He is, says St. Luke, “making His way to Jerusalem.” Luke has previously described Him as “setting His face toward Jerusalem” almost as if He were gritting His teeth. Jesus is under no illusions: He is aware that this is a journey to suffering and death, and those who wish to enter into life must make that journey with Him.
What does this entail? Remember that those who are cast out are people whom Jesus does not recognise, who have not made the effort to get to know Him. We need to be people who know the Lord, and who are known by Him. This means that we must be people of prayer, people who have met Him in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in our neighbour, and in the silence of our hearts. We must be people who seek His will in the events of every day.
Finally, we must be people who are prepared to take up the Cross, to unite our sufferings to those of the Lord for the salvation of the world, to recognise that our status as God’s sons and daughters requires us to share the sufferings of the only begotten Son. We should be heartened by all the encouraging aspects of today’s readings but, having been encouraged, we must be prepared to accept the more difficult aspects of our call.