22 August 2010 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66, 18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12, 5-13; Luke 13, 22-30
Let’s put all the readings together.
First, where we are. Life has its melodrama of separations and reunions. Goodbyes are necessary in order to advance and develop. The older we are the more farewells we have said. But without life’s separations, we will be what we have been. Our growth will be stunted and our life will be stagnant. These are necessary separations and therefore are important in life.
There are also those who are lost in all sense of the word. There are stray members of the flock. There are also lost shepherds. The Gospel calls them the ones outside the door; those who are knocking when the Master has locked the doors. In other words, those who are outside do not belong to the family or the company of the Master.
Second, where we want to go. The first reading from Isaiah is a vision. It foresees all nations coming together to worship the Lord. It dreams of a grand reunion, when every one who has dispersed return and gather.
It includes those who are members of the family of God who have “left” the house to forge their own paths. This dream is already planted into our souls; we get to ‘taste’ it in some of our experiences. Those who are living and working abroad are excited to return home to their families. Those of us who left our hometowns to study and pursue our dreams oftentimes get excited when opportunities for a visit open.
But more profoundly, we hope for peace. Peace is that dream of God in the vision of the prophet Isaiah when the nations at odds, cease fighting in the realization that their opponents are actually their brothers and sisters. We stop all violence when we find what unites us than what divides.
Finally, how we are going to get there. The readings propose a methodology.
Step 1, the task. The responsorial psalm tells us what we are to do: Go out to all the world and tell the Good News. It means active witnessing both in word and in action. We have to walk our talk: we have to know and live the Good News so that we know what to offer the world.
It therefore challenges the type of faith that we have. It is not enough that we are on bended knees mouthing novenas and rosaries; it means to take an interest in really studying and reflecting the Scriptures. It is not enough that we go through the motions of religious observance and rituals, or give donations to the poor; it means being really present to them and sharing their pain. The task is to have a faith that is informed and at the same time, a faith that becomes an agent of change.
Step 2, the training. The second reading tells us how God trains us. We are to pass through the crucible of trials and sufferings, as gold is tested in fire. In a profound sense, to pray for no suffering or trial in our lives is unrealistic. God will not remove our problems from us, because He himself underwent suffering and death, not just during the passion, but even before it. He endured the ridicule of the leaders of Israel. He experienced rejection and discomfort. The letter to the Hebrews is proof that God often tests our mettle, but not tempt us to sin because that is not His nature.
That is why we pray for deliverance: that we are able to take on the challenges and succeed from it. Our trials are suppose to make us better. Consider the greatest heroes or the best professionals: they improve because they learned. The creme de la creme practices everyday. It is not an accident that sports, science, or the arts are called, disciplines. Prayer is also a discipline, even in its strictest sense. Consider, meditation or even the 30-day retreat of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As Jesuits, we have to be trained first before we are able to contemplate for an hour five times a day, and be quiet for one month.
Training is discipline. Our passion for our dreams intensifies when it is challenged. Our motivations are purified when we endure and persevere despite the odds. We form character through fire. The letter to the Hebrews gives us the imagery: “For what child is there whom his father does not discipline?”
Step 3, pass through the narrow gate in the Gospel. There are two types of gates in Jerusalem. The wider gate where all can enter; and the ‘people-only’ gate where a single person can squeeze in. In the latter, you cannot bring your baggage.
Our choices limit our options. When we were young, we have a wider array of choices. We can be whoever we want to be. We can choose from a menu of college courses and they are all possibilities. But the difficulty is to choose just one. Heraclitus once said that we cannot step twice in the same river. Once an opportunity pass, it’s gone. Whatever we choose now will determine our future.
How we start our lives will shape whatever comes. Harry Fosdick said that he who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads. In a way, we cannot have all the options all at once. In a lifetime, when we choose the field of science, our choices becomes more specific. We begin as a biology major (or a pre-med course), then we take General Medicine, and finally, we specializes in one particular field. Our choices narrows down our options. This is the passage to the narrow gate.
The same thing with faith. To go out into the world and preach the Good News will require choices. How are you to specifically and practically ‘go out to all the world and tell the Good News’? We do that in our own specific and particular way: as a priest, as a doctor, as a house-person, as a public official, etc. Our vocation and our different roles are cut-out for every unique individual— this is how God wants us to do it. We know our general mission, but the way to do it will depend on our gifts and our individual style. We pass through the narrow gate through our specific vocation.
It is who we, what we are, what we know that preach the Gospel to the whole world. So that when all of us hear and heed the Word of God, we will begin to dream of home. And we will immediately pack our bags, excitedly gather around the table of the Lord.