Studying God’s Word

Isaiah 66:18-21
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30 [123C]
The readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time warn believers against the presumption of privilege. The Christian life and the salvation derived from it require more than just a profession of faith; one must put faith
into action.
Since the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26), we have taken the Gospel readings from Luke’s travel narrative (9:51—19:44). Luke reminds us of the journey in the opening words to today’s Gospel reading: “Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.” Throughout the travel narrative, Luke has focused on Jesus teaching to three different groups: the crowds, his disciples, and his opponents (typically the Jewish religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees). In today’s reading, Jesus is speaking to the crowds of would-be followers. The conversation begins with a single question from someone in the crowd, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus’ answer serves as both a warning and a challenge. Simply acknowledging that you were present and listening to God’s word (“We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets”) does not secure one’s salvation. In fact, passive listeners to the words of Christ will face divine rejection on Judgment Day, condemned as “evildoers!” Further, God’s mercy and salvation will be offered not only to Israel, but to people of faith from all the nations who were “strong enough” to “enter through the narrow gate” through works of justice, mercy, and compassion to all those in need.
The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah. The Book of Isaiah is the longest text of the Bible, sixty-six chapters in length. The final section, Isaiah 56–66, is referred to as “Third Isaiah” and is thought to have been compiled sometime after Israel’s return from the Babylonian Exile, post-537 BC. With First Isaiah (chapters 1–39) containing materials dating back to the historical Isaiah, beginning around 735 BC, and Second Isaiah (chapters 40–55) preserving the words and activities of the prophet active during the Babylonian Exile about 550 BC, the entire Book of Isaiah covers over two hundred years of Israel’s history. Today’s reading is taken from the final words of this prophetic text. It foreshadows a time when all the “nations of every language” will gather together and see God’s “glory.” The Book of Isaiah ends with Isaiah’s vision of the consummation of this age. Isaiah sees God active in this age, bringing together all the nations of the earth, including “the distant coastlands.” God gathers people from these vast nations and brings them to his “holy mountain,” Jerusalem, even elevating some of them to the roles of “priests and Levites.” In his teaching to the crowds on his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus, too, foresaw God’s divine intervention at his second coming: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
In the second reading from Hebrews, we hear the author characterize community members as having “drooping hands” and “weak knees.” Throughout this letter, the author is critical of his community, commenting that they are in danger of ignoring “so great a salvation” (2:3), have become “sluggish in hearing” (5:11; 6:12), do not assemble as a community (10:25), and are not upholding its original confession of faith (4:14; 10:23). The author exhorts his community to view the trials they face as believers as part of the “discipline” of faith. Only with discipline and endurance can one put faith into action and enter into the kingdom of God.

Dr. Daniel J. Scholz