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God's Word on Sunday: One God, one humanity and one world

  • August 14, 2022

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

What does the world yearn for most of all? Many would say unity and a sense of God’s presence.

Tragically, religion has often been used to separate people rather than bring them together, to build walls rather than bridges. Religious faith has even been used to spill innocent blood, as well as to exploit and enslave people. But this is not the will of God, and God has to continually shake loose from the various ways that humans have attempted to control God.

No person or group owns or controls God or has a hotline to the divine throne room. This is reflected in the passage from Isaiah as God reveals the divine intentions for all to see. God envisions a time when God will be manifested to distant nations, for God will reveal the divine glory by reaching out to all nations and tongues. In this distant future, people of all types will journey to the Holy Mountain to worship the God of Israel, some journeying in chariots, on dromedaries and mules, or carried in litters. All will be welcome as a holy offering to the Lord.

The passage ends with the stunning assertion that God will take some of them as priests and Levites. People of all backgrounds would be eligible for service in the temple ceremonies.

This did not come to pass, but it represents the mind and heart of God. Although Christianity is a missionary religion, it has sometimes erected boundaries and barriers between peoples and preserved power in the hands of a few. There is one God, one humanity and one world. We will not stream towards God’s Holy Mountain together until people of all religions lay aside illusions of divine privilege, superiority over others and the collective tendency to “control” God. Those are the preconditions — it remains for us to begin that journey.

Discipline has a negative reputation with many people because it is sometimes merely a cover for harshness, cruelty and a desire to control others. Discipline in its proper sense is training — just like an athlete or a musician. Practise makes perfect, or close enough to it. We are given the experiences and encounters we need to develop our character, practise patience and learn to be compassionate and generous.

Sometimes the discipline can seem difficult or harsh, but it is tailored to our personality and state of spiritual development. Rather than being resentful or resisting, it is far more helpful and advantageous to cooperate with the proper frame of mind.

The disciples asked Jesus the age-old question: how many — and who — will be saved? Jesus remarkably intimates that the number will not be as great as we would like and might include some surprises. He describes a narrow gate through which many will try to enter, but some will be unsuccessful. Others will try to barge through, relying on their membership — the right people, the right nation, the right religion or sect. When they find themselves standing outside, they will complain loudly and bitterly, reminding the Lord that they had known Him, and He had walked and taught among them. Jesus will deny that He ever knew them, for their hearts and minds had not been with Him. They had given Him lip service at most, and many lived absorbed in the self.

The only way we slip through that narrow entrance is by our humility, compassion and mercy. The labels we carry will amount to nothing. But there is another obstacle to getting through that narrow gate: because it is narrow, we cannot take any baggage with us. And we have a lot of baggage. Resentment, unforgiveness, hatreds, the urge to dominate others and ungodly ways of thinking all hinder us in our journey and prevent us from squeezing through that narrow gate. Love and wisdom are the only things we can take with us.

And there is the surprise at the end: the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Power, position, privilege and wealth that we enjoy in this life do not transfer into our eternal life with God. We will be amazed at who is there — and who is not. The kingdom of God is definitely not like our world.