God's Word on Sunday: There are no shortcuts on path to God

  • August 15, 2019

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 25 (Year C) Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

What part about “all nations and tongues” do we not understand? 

It is very clear in this latter part of Isaiah, written in the late sixth century BC, that God was up to something. The exile in Babylon had expanded Israel’s awareness of God, for now God was seen as a universal God of all the peoples. Christianity did not invent universalism, but merely developed and expanded Isaiah’s insights. 

There is a beautiful description of people from all the corners of the Earth streaming towards Jerusalem to behold God’s glory and to be instructed. The end of the passage has a little bombshell: God proclaims that some of them will be taken for priests and Levites — they will be included in the household of God. This is so unlike the possessiveness that often lays hold of religious people and their tendency to build walls and barriers. 

It would be fruitful to mediate on this passage in light of the divisiveness and intolerance that poisons so much of religious life in all traditions. No one owns God or has an inside track. God loves all and we have absolutely nothing to say about it.

People show incredible discipline and fortitude in studies, sports and physical training, and testing physical limits, such as climbing Mount Everest. They will even take great risks, sometimes suffering injury or death, in their pursuit of achievement and glory. And yet the mere hint of God’s discipline in the form of life experiences and struggles sends many people running for the hills or seething with resentment. 

True discipline is formative, honing and perfecting an individual into a mirror reflecting God’s glory. The struggles we face are opportunities rather than punishment — if we choose to see them that way. 

We suffer from an unwillingness to have any limits or boundaries on our desires or actions. At the same time, there is a tendency to collapse in the face of obstacles or opposition. We lack staying power, strength and a clear sense of right and wrong, all things that healthy discipline helps to develop.

Who will be saved? The usual response is those who belong to the right group or believe the right way. The shocking Gospel passage tells another story. It is not the smug and self-assured who are saved, and mere membership in any group means absolutely nothing. 

Those who are “locked out” protest loudly that they were on a first-name basis with the Lord — they ate and drank with Him, saying all the right things and putting on a great show. But Jesus denied that He ever knew them and ordered them out of His sight. The reason: Despite their religiosity and God-talk, they were not with the Lord in their heart of hearts and did not walk His path. 

This is an echo of Paul’s insistence in Romans 2:13 that it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the Law. 

To drive the point home, Jesus painted a picture of people streaming towards God’s kingdom from every direction of the compass. This mass of humanity included many who by commonly held opinion shouldn’t be there. God’s ways are definitely not ours, and we will be shocked at who is there and who is not. 

Jesus insisted that the narrow gate is the only entrance to God’s kingdom. That gate is defined in the beatitudes as passion for justice and peace, humility, non-violence, forgiveness, purity of intent and unrelenting kindness and compassion. 

Do we walk with Jesus — or at least make an honest effort — in word, thought and deed? Do we care about the same things that concerned the Lord? Are we a source of hope and blessing to others? 

The gate is narrow not to be exclusive, but to emphasize that there is only one path to God — God’s path — and that there are no shortcuts.

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