August 21, 2016 — Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
IS 66: 18-21; PS 117: 1-2; HEB 12: 5-7, 11-13; LK 13: 22-30
Today’s readings remind us that Jesus is our Savior in no uncertain terms. His sacrifice for us is our saving grace. This is a fact we need to dwell on each and every day in our attitudes, our prayers, and in gratitude for what He has done for us.
In our First Reading from the prophet Isaiah God declares, “I come to gather nations of every language.” All He says will experience His glory, not just the Israelites, but all, all gentiles and all peoples throughout the world. The reading continues to include what was known as the world at that time. Missionaries are sent to Tarshish (what we know as France, Italy, and Spain); to Pul and Lud, which is basically the continent of Africa; to Mosoch, which is Asia; to Tubal, which is Russia and the eastern European lands; and to Bultema, which is Greece.
In fact, this reading confirms that we are part of a mission Church, and that each of us is called to be a missionary. That does not mean we have to travel to the corners of the world to fulfill our call, but we do have to be prepared to live out that mission, as a follower of our Savior, on each day and in each place and to each person we may encounter.
We are indeed saved, but the Letter to the Hebrews, from which today’s Second Reading is drawn, reminds us that it is not always easy. The author speaks of how God is a loving God, but at times that love may seem severe, what we tend to call today “tough love.” Many of the challenges we face can be traced to the first three words the author uses after addressing us as “Brothers and Sisters.” He says quite simply, “You have forgotten…” The Hebrews to whom the letter is addressed, as well as we today, sometimes forget the reward promised to us. We cannot understand how God can allow us to have difficulties and challenges. You might say that we are aware of God’s love and caring in our minds, but we may “forget” it in our heart where it must always be present.
If we have ever experienced the difficulty presented by parenting, how even when you love a child, that child may require discipline and an experience to make him or her stronger, we can understand this better. God is our parent; He loves us but He also appreciates that there are times when He must correct us. We know we are sinners, and we must realize that God loves us in spite of our sins. Yet sins may have consequences. God is aware that we become discouraged, as also is the writer of the letter to the Hebrews. We are told to “strengthen your drooping hands and your weakness. Make straight paths for your feet.” We need to be prepared to perform our missionary tasks, to be stewards and disciples as we are expected.
Jesus speaks directly to salvation in the Gospel Reading from St. Luke. The Lord, faced with the question from a follower, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus explains salvation by asking the questioner more or less, “Are you saved?” That is what each of us must ask ourselves, “Can I be saved?” The obvious answer is “Of course.” However, there are qualifications to that answer. When the Lord makes a reference to entering through the narrow gate, we must never forget that He is the gate and He is the gate keeper. He is the road to salvation. All of our good works are nothing if we do not do them in His name.
Following Jesus, being His disciple, trying to fulfill His expectations should really be our life’s work. In that way we are striving to enter the door, and that is an important point made by the Lord. He says, in effect, “If you do not strive to enter, if you do not seek to find your vocation and your place, the door may be closed.” Jesus has the key to the door, but it may be located in our hearts.