Twenty-first Sunday of the Year: Isaiah 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7, 11 & 11-13; Lk 13:22-30
The Scriptures today reassure us that God’s salvation is a gift for the whole world. Its generosity is for all without exception. With this reassurance of a salvation that is offered universally comes a challenge.
We must accept the grace that is offered. The prophet Isaiah sets before us the generosity of God’s saving purpose. “The Lord says this: I am coming to gather the nations of every language. They shall come to witness my glory.” These words were spoken to a deeply divided world. The competing rivalries of ancient empires had meant violence and destruction to the peoples that lay in their path. The whole of Israel’s tenuous existence had been lived out in the shadow of its powerful and ambitious neighbours. It was not only Israel’s powerful neighbours that threatened her existence. The days of Israel’s initial glory had been followed by a deep malaise threatening the very soul of the nation. The ways of faith had been soon forgotten as Israel’s prosperity eroded her humility before God, her compassion for the poor and dispossessed.
We can see the obvious comparisons between our own experience and Isaiah’s world. We also live beneath the uneasy shadow of political and economic powers that vie for supremacy. Values once held sacred have been surrendered to the lure of prosperity. Market forces are oblivious to the needs of the most deprived. The salvation promised by the prophet Isaiah was all the more remarkable because it rose above the petty pride that divided the nations of his day. His was a message of salvation for the whole world, not simply for Israel. Israel herself, restored by the grace of God, would become a sign of salvation to the competing nations. Her survivors would go to the nations that had never heard of God, bringing His light and His truth. In a touching image of redemption, all would be gathered together on the Lord’s Holy Mountain.
The experience of Christians today is not unlike that of Israel long ago. We feel threatened and discounted. Nevertheless, we, like Isaiah, carry in our hearts a vision that embraces the whole world. We believe in a peace that speaks to the world, that has the power to unite divided nations. If we are to speak with authority, we must first embrace the salvation that has been offered in Jesus Christ. We cannot offer this universal grace to the world unless it has first taken root in our hearts.
It was within this context that Jesus challenged his disciples when questioned about those who would be saved. He said that, although salvation is offered to all, there would be many who would try to enter and not succeed. A salvation universally offered is no guarantee that all will rise above their selfishness so as to be embraced by the Lord. The words of Jesus ask a searching question: “Where do you come from, what drives your deepest desires?” Only in answering this question truthfully can we know what we have in common with the salvation promised by our God. In answering this question we will discover what we have to offer to a divided world.