Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings
21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)
Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Who Will Be Saved?
How often do you ask yourself about the condition of your soul and the likelihood of your eternal salvation? As a society we are too often overly concerned with our accumulation of material goods, but what about the imperishable works that will follow the righteous into eternity? How seriously do we consider that we might not be preparing our souls for the eternal judgment we all must face? This is a serious question in a time when many professing Christians do not go to confession or even worship on the Lord's Day. Giving God worship, confession, renouncing sin, penance and conversion continues to be integral parts of the Biblical message. Eternal salvation is the destiny God plans for all of us (1 Tim 2:3; 2 Pt 3:9), but how many will be willing to do what is necessary to fulfill that destiny?
Today's First Reading is from the prophet Isaiah's end-times discourse when he prophesizes that in the Messianic Age all nations of the earth will repent and be converted to worship the One True God, and, as an offering to God, they will restore the dispersed Jews to Jerusalem. Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in the new Israel of the New Covenant Church that welcomed all Gentile nations of the earth into and universal family of Jesus the Messiah. Many have also seen, at the urging of the Christian nations of the world, the United Nations recreating the nation of Israel in 1947 and opening a way for all the world's Jews displaced by World War II to have a nation—a nation that had not existed since the 8th century BC, as a further fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy.
In the Second Reading, the inspired writer reminds the Jewish-Christians of his times and us today that God loves us and even when we suffer chastisement because of our sins, these corrections are signs of God's fatherly love and concern for His children. Our loving heavenly Father is not a permissive parent—He is a righteous Father who expects the best from His children. A holy God deserves holy children.
We are reminded in the Gospel Reading that from the beginning of God's relationship with mankind, God's gift of free-will has always given humanity the choice between two paths or two gates/doors—to travel the way of obedience and fellowship with God that leads to eternal life, or to go one's own way without God and to follow a path that leads to eternal separation from God. Jesus offers the same teaching in today's Gospel that there are two paths in life—the "narrow path" and the "wide path." The wide path seems appealing at first because it calls for no standard of conduct. It is the easier and therefore the more traveled path, but it leads to sin, to separation from God, and to eternal punishment. The other choice is the narrow, less traveled, harder path that requires spiritual strength. This is the path that leads to fellowship with God and eternal salvation. It is not God's desire that any should perish and that all will come to salvation—it is the destiny He planned for us form the moment we were conceived. However, God does not force us—you, like every person in salvation history, must determine the ultimate destination—there is no middle ground and the choice is entirely yours.
The First Reading Isaiah 66:18-21 ~ The Future of the
18 I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. 19 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; 20 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. 21 Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD.
God called Isaiah in c. 740 BC, and his ministry as God's holy prophet lasted forty years. This passage is part of the prophet Isaiah's eschatological (end time) discourse. It is his prophecy that in the Messianic Age the nations of the earth will be converted and will restore the dispersed Jews to Jerusalem as an offering to God. The "fugitives" of the nations (verse 19) are the missionaries that God will send out to convert the nations even to the most distant regions: Tarshish is probably Spain, Put is probably Lybia, Lud is probably Lydia, Meshech is probably Phrygia (Persia), Tubal is likely Cilica, and Javan the Ionians of Asia Minor and the Greeks (see Joel 3:6 where "sons of Javan" refers to the Greeks and Dan 8:21 where "the king of Javan" is clearly Alexander the Great. "Javan" also means "Greece" in Zech 9:13 and Dan 10:20). Some of these future missionaries God will ordain as priests and lesser ministers like the Levites (verse 21).
This prophecy was fulfilled in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the birth of the New Covenant Church at Pentecost. After His Resurrection and prior to His Ascension, Jesus commanded His disciples to take the Gospel message of salvation to the "ends of the earth" (Mt 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8) so that all mankind might know God's gift of salvation (Lk 1:30-32; Jn 8:12). On the Jewish feast of Weeks/Pentecost, the 120 faithful remnant of the new Israel praying in the Upper Room ten days after Jesus' Ascension were visited by the Holy Spirit who filled and indwelled the members of the Church, giving them the spiritual power to fulfill their mission as Christ's emissaries to the Gentile nations.
The Gentile peoples that are named in the prophecy in verse 19 (with the exception of the people of the British Isles who are not named) lived on the edges of the Roman Empire in the first century AD, which was considered the "known world" in Jesus' time. According to Isaiah's prophecy, a ministerial priesthood and lesser ministers will be ordained to minister to the nations. In the Old Covenant, priests were certain members of the faithful (descendants of Aaron) who were ordained to offer sacrifice and worship, to hear confessions and forgive sins (i.e. Lev 5:5-6, 10b). Levites were the lesser ministers who assisted the priests. This prophecy was fulfilled by the Church founded by Jesus Christ in which ordained Christian priests (the successors of Jesus' disciples) and lesser ministers (deacons), who faced persecution as fugitives in the early years of the Church, spread out from Jerusalem to form faith communities in Asia Minor, Greece, and across the Roman Empire. They served the Christian communities in the same way as the ministerial priesthood in the Old Covenant except the sacrifice they offered was the sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist.
From the earliest years of the birth of the Church, Gentiles were welcomed into the covenant family of believers in Jesus Christ (Acts 11:19-20, 10:34-48; 15:6-9). The first Christian communities were composed of Jews and Gentiles who were equals in the community of the faithful and equals in the promise of eternal salvation (Rom 3:29-30; 9:24; Gal 3:28). But how will the Gentile nations restore Israel? It is this part of the prophecy that is controversial. Some see the prophecy as only fulfilled at Pentecost in the birth of the Church as the "new" Israel and the gathering into the universal Church the descendants of the Israelites who had been disbursed into the Gentile nations. However, there is also another possible fulfillment. In 1947, after many days of debate and in a late night vote, the Christian Gentile nations of the United Nations voted to re-create the state of Israel. Some see this momentous event as a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. A state of Israel had not existed since 722 BC when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and exiled its citizens into the Gentile nations to the east. The action of the United Nations in 1947 may also be the fulfillment of another of Isaiah's prophecies: Who ever heard of such a thing, who ever saw anything like this? Can a country be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? For Zion, scarcely in labor, has brought forth her children! Isaiah 66:8 NJB
The Responsorial Psalm 117:1-2 ~ Praise the LORD Who Calls
all Mankind to Salvation
The response is: "Go out to all the world and tell the Good News."
1 Praise the LORD, all you nations; glorify him, all your peoples!
2 For steadfast is his kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
This is the shortest psalm in the Book of Psalms, consisting of only two verses. It is for this reason that some of the Hebrew manuscripts join this psalm to the previous one or to the one that follows, but it does have its own identity and acts as the introduction to the climax of the Hallel Psalms, also called the Egyptian Psalms (Ps 113-118).
Psalm 117 consists of two invitations to the nations of the earth to praise God (verse 1) and two reasons for that praise (verse 2). The call made to all the nations in verse 1 to offer praise includes acknowledgment that Yahweh is the God of all peoples and not just the God of Israel. St. Paul will quote this verse in Romans 15:8-11 as proof that Scripture confirms his teaching that Jesus also came to save the Gentiles and that Psalm 117 reaches it fulfillment in Jesus and in His Church. In fact, this psalm does not reveal its full meaning until after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when He sent forth His disciples to preach the Gospel of salvation to all the nations (Mt 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8). St. John Chrysostom wrote, This psalm contains the prophecy that the Church and the teaching of the Gospel would spread to the ends of the earth (Chrysostom, Expositio in Psalmos, 116).
The Second Reading Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 ~ Discipline
5 You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: "My son, do not distain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; 6 for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges." 7 Endure your trials as "discipline"; God treats you as sons. For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline?
11 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. 12 So strengthen your dropping hands and your weak knees. 13 Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.
In Hebrews 12:5-6 the inspired writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is known as the Septuagint and identified by the abbreviation LXX. The Greek translation of Sacred Scripture was the text most commonly used during Jesus' time and the most often quoted translation of Old Testament passages in the Gospels and other New Testament books. The point the inspired writer is making by quoting this passage is that God loves us and even chastisement and correction are signs of God's fatherly love and concern for His children. Also see 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 where St. Paul paraphrases Proverbs 3:12 and Revelation 3:19 where Jesus quotes from the same verse.
Hebrews 12:7 Endure your trials as "discipline";
God treats you as sons. For what "son" is there whom his father does not
The next verse (verse 8) which is not in our reading makes the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate sons. The reference to legitimate children is significant. American society no longer places much importance on legitimacy, but in ancient times it was the legitimate heir who inherited the land and the father's material wealth. As legitimate children we are entitled to inherit our heavenly Father's kingdom and all the blessings that are associated with that inheritance. It is an inheritance Christians obtained upon the death of the God the Son (Heb 9:15-17). The inspired writer is also making the point that fathers do not discipline children who are not their own. Fathers care about establishing right character and right action in their own children and to that end when their children fall into error good fathers offer discipline to bring their children back onto the right course. Our heavenly Father is no different. Because He loves us, He disciplines us. His chastisements are meant to be a lesson so that we will reform our lives before the Day of Judgment:
In his homily on this passage St. John Chrysostom taught: "The Lord disciplines him whom he loves and chastises every son whom he receives." You cannot say that any righteous person is without affliction; even if that one appears to be so; we do not know that person's other afflictions. Of necessity every righteous person must pass through affliction. For it is a declaration of Christ that the wide and broad way leads to destruction but the straight and narrow one to life. If then it is possible to enter into life by that means and no other, then all have entered in by the narrow way, as many as have departed unto life" (Chrysostom, On the Epistle to the Hebrews, 29.2; >quoting Hebrews 12:6 and also referring to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount teaching in Matthew 7:13-14).
What about the sinner who seems to prosper in his sin? What does his condition suggest? In Romans 1:24-32, St. Paul uses the Biblical formula "God abandoned them" (referring to their sins) 3 times in verses 24, 26, and 28, emphasizing that sin produces its own devastation to the human body and soul. The position of the sinner who is left in his sins is a person in a dire state. When one continually rejects either God's correction through the Church, or the intervention of friends and family, or the temporal suffering that sin inflicts on life, God will abandon the sinner to his self-indulgence. In such cases, it is God's intentionthat the judgment of falling to the depths of his own sins and the suffering the sins inflicts that the sinner will "wake up" to the need for repentance and conversion.
How should a child of God respond to the discipline of suffering? Sin is toxic. When sin brings suffering the Christian must repent the sin, seek forgiveness, be restoration in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and be thankful to God for His merciful correction. Other suffering not associated with personal sin can be purifying suffering in which the Christian unites his suffering to Christ's suffering as a sacrificial offering, it is an act of faith that counts towards one's salvation.
11 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.
On the journey to Mt. Sinai God did not immediately respond to every physical need of the children of Israel. He allowed them to feel hunger before He gave them quail to eat and the manna from heaven in Exodus 16:1-36. He let them feel thirst to teach them to turn to Him for help and then He gave them the miracle of water from the rock in Exodus chapter 17.1-7. God wanted to discipline the children of Israel and to train them to depend upon Him and to trust Him to meet their needs both physically and spiritually. Another example of God's discipline is the event of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC, and the resulting 70 year exile of the Judeans. Yet God forgave His people and used those extraordinary measures to secure a blessing for His covenant people in a "faithful remnant" of Israel who brought forth the Virgin Mary and her son. From a daughter of Israel came a human and divine Son of God to bring salvation to all of mankind from the time of Adam and to all succeeding generations (1 Pt 3:18-20; 4:6).
12 So strengthen your dropping hands and your weak knees.
The inspired writer's command in Hebrews 12:12 is a reference to the stance a runner took in ancient times at the beginning of a race with bent knees and back and arms held low as he tensely waited at the starting block. Then as today, as a runner explodes off the start line his back straightens, his arms come up, his legs straighten out, and his stride lengthens. A runner needs a good start, but he also needs a good finish just as a Christian needs good catechesis (training) to be able to stay on the "narrow path" to salvation, but he also needs to make a good "finish" in his journey to salvation.
13 Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may
not be dislocated but healed.
In Hebrews 12:13 the inspired writer is quoting from Proverbs 4:26 in the Septuagint, a passage which also uses the "race" metaphor to illustrate what is necessary of achieve victory in the journey to salvation. That passage reads: Make straight paths for thy (your, plural) feet, and order thy (your, plural) ways aright. Turn not aside to the right hand nor to the left, but turn away thy foot from an evil way: for God knows the ways on the right hand, but those on the left are crooked and he will make thy (your plural) ways straight, and will guide thy (your plural) steps in peace.
According to Hebrews 12:13 can such a person, who has become
"lame" by falling into doctrinal error be "healed"? See 1Timothy 2:3-4; 2
Peter 3:9; Philippians 2:12-18;
1 Corinthians 5:4-5.
Yes, one can be "healed" of such an injury even in the midst of the "race" if the believer repents and true faith and obedience are restored, for God wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). This is a warning that salvation is a life-long process and not a one-time event. Even in the midst of the journey to salvation the professed believer faces dangers to his eternal salvation. In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, St. Paul speaks of a baptized man within the faith community who is guilty of mortal sin. He tells the community that they must discipline the man in the Lord's name by excommunicating him from the community in the hope that such a punishment will result in his repentance, conversion, and restoration to the community before his day of judgment so that his spirit may be saved on the Day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:5b).
Salvation is a process with many points of justification along each individual's faith journey to the gates of heaven and eternal salvation.
|Ephesians 2:5||1 Peter 1:8-9||Romans 13:11-14|
|Ephesians 2:8||1 Corinthians 1:18||1 Corinthians 3:10-15|
|Philippians 2:12||1 Corinthians 5:4-5|
It is God's will and our destiny to come to salvation. The only impediment to the gift of eternal life is one's free will choice to reject God's gift. It is an act of rejection that one is free to make anywhere along one's faith journey: But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out (2 Pt 3:8-10; also see CCC 1038-41, 1470).
The Gospel Reading Luke 13:22-30 ~ The Choice of Two
22 Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" He answered them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. 25 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.' 26 And you will say, 'We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.' 27 Then he will say to you.' I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!" 28 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. 29 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. 30 For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
From the beginning of God's relationship with man, through the gift of free will man has always had the choice between two paths or two gates/doors: to travel the way of obedience to God or to go one's own way. Moses spoke of the two ways in his last homily to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 30:15-20 in choosing the path of life in obedience to the commandments of the Lord or the path that leads to death. The Psalmist provides the same warning when he wrote: The LORD watches over the Way of the Just, but the Way of the wicked leads to ruin (Ps 1:6). In fact, in the early Church before the name "Christian" was applied to believers at the Church of Antioch in Syria, the followers of Jesus were referred to as the followers of "The Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22). The same name was applied to Christians in the Church's early Catechism, called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, also known as the Didache (see articles 1-6 in the Agape Bible Study lessons on the Didache).
What contrast is Jesus making in the Gospel reading? How does free will enter into our decision? What is the inescapable choice each of us must make? In Jesus' teaching there are 2 definite, inescapable choices each of us must make. The choice between:
Everyone must choose their ultimate destination and the choice is entirely ours. The wide path is the way of sin. It seems appealing at first and calls for no standard of conduct. It is the easier and therefore the more traveled path, but it leads to eternal punishment. The other choice is the narrow gate/door and a less traveled, harder path that requires spiritual strength. This is the path leads to eternal salvation.
In the Gospel of John we are told that Jesus the Messiah is the narrow gate/door/way:
How "narrow" is the way that leads to the narrow, less entered gate/door or way? For some of us it can be as narrow as the eye of a needle (see Mt 19:24). In Luke 13:24 Jesus says: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." We cannot force our way into heaven and there is no other path to salvation, as St. Peter testified when he said: "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12). Also see Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25; Jn 14:6; 1 Pt 2:6-8; CCC 432, 452, 756, 1507.
In Luke 13:24 Jesus gives us the warning that it takes
spiritual strength to enter the narrow gate.
What makes the narrow gate/door only for the "strong" in verse 24? What is the faithful Christian carrying across the threshold of the narrow door that requires strength? See Mt 10:38; 16:24; Mk 8:34; 10:21; Lk 9:23 and 14:27. Jesus warned His disciples that they must daily take up the cross and follow Him. The faithful believer must carry the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Cross of personal suffering for the sake of the Savior. It is the Cross that the believer carries on his faith journey through life and across the threshold of the narrow gate. And what is it that the righteous Christian must leave behind before passing through the narrow gate/door? What is it that we won't need or won't be helpful in crossing the threshold of the narrow gate/door? To cross the threshold of a narrow gate, it is necessary to divest oneself of all unessential baggage. In this case divest yourself of materialism, pride, self-centeredness, hypocrisy, and all other sins.
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.'
Jesus shares a parable to make His point. The "master" is God and the "door" of the "house" is the gate to God's "house" that is heaven. You might recall an Old Testament event in which a closed and locked door led to divine judgment for those outside the door. In the event of the Great Flood judgment (Gen 7:1, 4-5) the people of Noah's time knew about the coming flood and had all the time when the Ark was being built until the door was closed to repent. By the time the door was closed and locked it was too late to repent when the floor waters began to rise. Those left outside the Ark in the Flood Judgment can be compared to Jesus' warning. Now is the time to repent and accept Jesus' invitation to enter the Kingdom because the time will come when it will be too late to accept His Gospel message of salvation and pass through the narrow door, just as those who failed to believe in the time of Noah were doomed to judgment and death.
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.' 27 Then he will say to you.' I do not know
where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!" 28 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.
It is not enough to be a "professing" Christian. One must be a faithful Christian who lives according to the law of the New Covenant through the teachings of Jesus Christ. The literal translation of 25b reads "I do not know you." To "know" someone in Biblical terminology means to have intimate physical (sexual) knowledge of a person or to have a covenant bond. In Jesus' little parable, the person knocking on the door (professing Christian) is not "known" to the "master" (God). The person is not a member of the New Covenant family of Jesus Christ but has forged his own path (his own belief system) in his attempt to enter the "narrow gate." Tragically, such a person will be denied entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven and will not become a part of the heavenly family of saints (verse 28).
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.
In this verse Jesus alludes to His rejection by many of the Jews and the invitation of salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46) who, coming from the four corners of the earth, will replace the Jews at the banquet table in the Kingdom of God (see Is 43:5-6; Ps 107:2-3). The invitation to come to "recline at table in the Kingdom of God" in verse 29 has a present and future significance. The holy banquet suggests the sacred meal of the Holy Eucharist, the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of heaven on earth (the Church). It also suggests the end of the Age of Man when Jesus will return and the faithful of every generation will recline at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that is the ultimate Communion of Saints in Heaven (Rev 19:5-9; CCC 946-62, 1331).
behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.
In God's Divine Plan, the Kingdom was first proclaimed to the Israelites (Jews). They were to be the vehicle by which the true God was to be revealed to the Gentile nations (Is 49:6; Rom 1:16; Acts 3:25-26). Jesus gives another warning to His audience in verse 30: the Gentiles, those called last, will precede those to whom the invitation to salvation was first extended. After the miracle at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled and indwelled the Church, the faithful remnant of Jews who became the leaders of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth (the Church) were spiritually empowered to carry the Gospel message of salvation to the Gentiles. The Gentiles gratefully accepted the call to salvation, accepted the place at "the table" rejected by the Jews and became part of the New Covenant universal (catholic) Church.
But our obligation to Jesus' brethren who are our older brothers and sisters in the faith has not ended. Even if they are the "last" it is our obligation to continue to call the Jews to become a part of the New Covenant family of believers in Jesus the Messiah. St. Paul wrote of this obligation and hope for the conversion of the Jews: ... a hardening has come upon Israel in part, until the full number of the Gentiles comes in, and thus all Israel will be saved ... (Rom 11:25b-26). Last year Father Peter Vesko, president of the Foundation for the Holy Land, told me that many Jews in the state of Israel are coming forward to accept Christ, more than he has ever seen before. And Agape Bible Study continues to hear from citizens of Israel who are learning about Jesus and embracing Him as their promised Messiah. The great gathering of souls will continue until Christ returns.
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013