21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“When the First becomes the Last.”
Which is our religion: is it a religion of life, or a religion of words, rites and devotions?
The Gospel today compares these two ways of living religion and calls us to examine seriously which is ours. It could in fact happen that although we consider ourselves good Christians, we may be rejected by the Master.
The first reading is linked to this theme because it proclaims “religious universality”. The religion of life can be practiced also by people not visibly part of the community of the disciples of Jesus. God has granted pagans the same privileges as his chosen people already in the Old Testament.
The second reading teaches us that the ‘education’ to the religion of life is rather painful, particularly for those who like a religion founded on formalism. In order to educate us, God at times uses ways and methods that are tough and painful, like calamities and criticism against believers. Sometimes he even allows us to be victims of ‘purifying persecutions.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible. These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings. These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings. ‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
Isaiah 66:18-21. The people of Israel were convinced that they were the only ‘good and upright’ people. They believed that they were the only ones faithful to God who had given them severe and stringent laws to prevent relations, friendships and marriages with members of other nations that did not know the Lord and served instead idols (Deut 7:1-8). Slowly the events of history demolished these prejudices.
In exile they also came to know better the foreigners that they had always despised. They realized that they are very different from what they had imagined. Generally, they were good, generous, likeable and kind people. They lived exemplary family lives and had a high standard of morality. This is when they started thinking that the Lord is not only the God of Israel, but of all peoples and loves all peoples, without distinction of race or tribe. They began to speak of a future Kingdom of happiness and peace and this is compared to a great banquet where the guests are served with fine wines and food. Who are those who will be invited to this feast? Would this be only the Israelites? No, The Lord will open the ‘banquet hall’ to let in all the people of the earth (Is 25:6).
Today’s reading begins with God’s promise that neighbouring nations would be brought to worship in the Jerusalem Temple. They would see God’s glory there. That would be only the beginning. Members of these neighbouring nations who had been led to Jerusalem by God, would become missionaries and proclaim the glory of God among the nations, to people who had never before heard of the glorious majesty of the God of the Israelites. God’s plan for worldwide salvation will come together to become ‘one people’ and to worship together in Jerusalem with no distinction based on birth or nation. It is to be a gathering of all humanity before God. This is the message of a prophet who lived during the time of the renewal and when these ideas began to spread. For us now it is quite normal to accept the Church as composed of different peoples and nations. Can we say that we have really done away with all kinds of discrimination based on tribe, wealth, social class and education? Do we perhaps need an “exile” to open up our minds and hearts to understand that we can learn a lot from non-Christians?
We all need to hear Isaiah’s message. We all need to hear Jesus’ teachings. If we are not reminded regularly of God’s intent, we run the risk of thinking of ourselves as the only ones that God cares about. We need to recall that God’s salvation and love is ‘Catholic’, i.e., universal in intent and directed to all peoples, the world over.
The Psalm is the shortest of all. It is a call to all nations to praise God for the qualities of merciful love and fidelity, which he revealed in binding himself in covenant to his people. He continues to display this faithfulness to Israel, even when he finds it lacking in them.
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13. The author of Hebrews explains how “although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered”. If his readers found themselves having to endure difficult times, it could be that God allowed this to help them grow strong and mature in their faith in the ‘One’ who endured hostility and persecution against himself from sinners.
We should know from the reading of Proverbs 3:11-12 that a good father disciplines his son. The reading is telling us that God uses also the painful circumstances that occur to us in life to help us improve and to urge us to be more like Christ.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is asked, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Jesus refuses to give a direct answer. Rather, he goes right to the heart of the salvation process, saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” In other words, those who will be saved are those who are faithful to God’s Word. Jesus tells us that there is no guarantee that one will enter the Kingdom because of belonging to the group of followers of Jesus. There must be a continuous effort that has to be made and this might, at times, appear as difficult as trying to pass through a ‘narrow door’.
Today still, people of many different religions seem to have the conviction that God cares and saves only those of their particular religious denomination. This was true of many people in Israel. Scripture tells us that when God called their ancestor Abraham, he promised him and ‘all his descendants’ blessings. God added: ‘In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ (Gn 12:3). Many people in Israel came to think that God’s love was for them exclusively. Therefore they despised other nations and called them ‘gentiles’. This may have been the attitude of the person who asked Jesus: ‘will only a few be saved?’ This attitude also exists among followers of Jesus today. Some call themselves ‘saved’ and think that everyone else who does not share in the same religious experience is not saved and will go to hell.
People used to be so fearful of losing their salvation because of the strictness of the way that this despairing question was: ‘Will only a few be saved?’ From despair we have swung to the other extreme … presumption. The presumption of today asks, ‘Wont everybody be saved?’ Surveys show that while most people believe in God, few believe there is hell. God desires all to receive his mercy and be ‘saved’ but people go their own way and ‘freely choose darkness’ rather than Light. Hell is freely chosen and self-inflicted. The way to salvation and God’s grace is not a paved highway, but a winding, rough road of sacrifices, on-going conversion, self-renunciation and humble service.
The people of Israel were the first people to enter into a covenant with God (Ex 19-24). The people of the ‘first covenant’ become the ‘last’ to accept the Gospel. Those who received God’s revelation last, the non-Jews, take their place and become the first. In the Kingdom of God, which Jesus proclaims, there are no more reserved places. Those who accept the message and transform their lives will enter wherever they come from. Our baptism does not
necessarily give us a right and control over God. Jesus describes the condition for entering the Kingdom when he says: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Fellowship in the Kingdom is open to all who hear the Word of God and keep it. The door policy is determined by fidelity to the Word of God.
Following Jesus is not always going to be a bed of roses; sometimes we will be called to suffer. It is a narrow door, and sometimes it’s a tight squeeze. But Jesus is with us, always by our side, assuring us of his grace when we need it. We can always count on him. He just does not want to be taken for granted.
St. Augustine said: “There are many in the Church that are not in the Kingdom, and there are many in the Kingdom that are not in the Church”.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following
21st Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … This Sunday’s first reading begins with God’s promise that neighbouring nations who were pagan at the time of writing would be brought to worship in the Jerusalem Temple. God’s plan for worldwide salvation will come together to become ‘one people’ and to worship together in Jerusalem with no distinction. Mon. … As Catholics we are taught to believe in the Catholic Church founded by Christ. We must however acknowledge the truths in other denominations and religions, but invite them to find fullness in the ‘One Church’ that has survived through all the centuries. We must never consider ourselves superior or as the only good and upright people. Tues. … The self-imposed separation that we sometimes inflict on ourselves keeps us from knowing and loving our brothers and sisters from different cultures and faiths. Perhaps periodically we all need to leave our ‘comfort zones’ and go into ‘exile’ and embrace people that we previously despised so that we may begin to truly love our ‘neighbour’. Wed. … God uses the painful situations in our lives to help us improve and urge us to be more like Christ. We need to wilfully accept the Cross in our lives as an essential part of our spiritual growth. A loving ‘God’ disciplines the children he loves. Similarly, an earthly father who does not really care could not be bothered! Thurs. … God’s offer of salvation requires our co-operation and our constant effort. To be ‘presumptuous’ and assume that because we have been baptized ‘born-again’ we are automatically saved could be a big mistake. Salvation is a lifetime journey of winding roads, sacrifices, on-going conversion. Above all our salvation depends on God’s mercy and grace. Frid. … In the Kingdom of God there are no reserved places. Will we accept our Lord and Saviour’s teachings to transform our lives and enter through the ‘narrow door’ by being one of those whom hear the Word of God and ‘keep it’. Sat. … The Gospel reading presents a paradox of exclusion and inclusion. Neither familiarity with Jesus nor membership in a ‘chosen people’ assures admittance to the banquet of heaven. Yet Jesus includes a small remnant of stragglers that enters by the narrow gate, (the ‘Last who will be First).
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, we pray for your graces and blessings for our difficult journey to salvation, a journey to the heavenly banquet in the Kingdom of God. May we be always guided by Your Word ‘Jesus’ and the Light of Your love the ‘Holy Spirit’ and the teachings of the Church.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group.
Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.