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Ordinary Time 21 (C)
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Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1. Isaiah 66, 18-21

  • I come to gather nations of every language.  God acts first.  If there is a main theme to this and every passage of scripture, here I have it.  The promises of God always come to pass, and I read them today with that same assurance.
  • They – shall come and see my glory.  We are representatives of those nations, some centuries removed.  It is our turn to answer.  As I look over the assembly, “they” becomes “you.” 
  • Tarshish, Put and Lud and the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame.  As I say their names let me think of the people who still wait for the Good News, whom we have not reached, even in this parish. 
  • They shall proclaim my glory.  They shall bring your brothers and sisters from all the nations.  Imagine the great procession streaming into the holy city from all directions.  With every repetition of the word “nations” let me expand my voice even further to encompass them.  Let me feel amazement over Jerusalem’s revival, as well as sadness that the area around Jerusalem today is filled with checkpoints and walls keeping people away from each other.
  • On horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries they come.  Let me imagine that I see all these modes of transportation as I announce them.
  • Some of these I will take as priests and Levites.  In other words, they join Israel on an equal footing.  No second class citizens here.  As Catholics, we can identify with such a universal mission. 
  • Climax: To Jerusalem – my holy mountain.  My voice has been climbing until it reaches the top of the mountain.
  • Message for our assembly: The reading is about us, who inhabit lands even more remote than those whose names we hear today.
  • I will challenge myself: To find my best visionary voice as I repeat this promise and as I watch the parade of the nations pass by my viewing stand.

2. Hebrews 12, 5-7 and 11-13

  • You have forgotten – the exhortation addressed to you as children.  It is a message I want the congregation to overhear.  I should avoid excessive eye contact today.  But I should rehearse until I find the right tone for these admonitions.
  • “Do not lose heart when reproved.  For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.”  First comes the passage from Proverbs.  For me “loves” drives everything else.  Scripture places all of God’s actions on our behalf, including anger and jealousy, in the context of an unbreakable love for us.
  • Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons.  Now we have the application of scripture.  The word “discipline” appears in this passage five times.  Let me read it in a level voice, without taking sides.  Children were corrected physically in ancient cultures, but their way does not need to be ours.  Many parents, like myself, reject the use of corporal punishment.  We find other ways to show that we care deeply about our children, through our speech and our glances of displeasure or satisfaction.  They learn appropriate behavior in the end.
  • It brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.  I recall that the letter was addressed to people with a superficial understanding of their faith, and who were undergoing great trials for its sake.  “Peaceful fruit” is a mouthful, and I need to speak it deliberately.  This is God’s peace, “free from all anxiety.”
  • Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.  The message is a timely one.  Some of my listeners bring trials on themselves by challenging legal authority or by carrying out civil disobedience, while others travel to countries in which Christians are threatened with their lives.  This homily is a message of encouragement, of healing, and I must find the way to convey the message to our whole assembly today.
  • Central point: Living our faith means allowing God to lead us on difficult and unpleasant paths.  But the last word, as well as the goal of our efforts, is healed.
  • The message for our assembly: We are used to words of comfort and assurance, not commands like this.  Which of the two is more commended in scripture?
  • I will challenge myself: To encourage my listeners to adopt a life of constant training and spiritual fitness, and to encourage myself above all.

Gospel. Luke 13, 22-30

  • Luke is telling about Jesus making his way to Jerusalem.
  • Lord, will only a few people be saved?  There must have been Jehovah’s Witnesses back then, passing on an exclusive view of the last days.  Christians have confronted this question from the beginning, as all the Gospels attest.  They answered it in many ways, but the one I hear today was the most common.
  • Strive to enter through the narrow gate.  We have all experienced the pushing of a crowd as a stadium or a store is about to open.  For Jesus, it is the striving that counts.  In his view, we will not get in if we just let ourselves be borne along by a human tide, and certainly not if we are trampled underfoot by others. 
  • Many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.  I recall what we just heard about discipline in Hebrews.  The image is a disarming one, and brings to mind acts of mob frenzy.  It certainly deserves a careful homily.  As a reader I need to bring my listeners a direct and immediate interpretation, to let them face the imminence and the finality of salvation.  That’s what the words say.
  • The master of the house has arisen and locked the door.  I am a college instructor and at the end of a term I am faced with considerations.  Well, here considerations are out of the question.  The door is shut and will not be opened again. 
  • Climax: I do not know where you are from.  I speak it twice, as a fact and not as a threat.  “Knowing” in scripture means being very familiar with someone.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we get through life with a free pass or by striving?
  • I will challenge myself: To give my voice the same finality as I hear in Jesus.

From Word to Eucharist: We usually proceed in an orderly way to the banquet of the Lord, not in the kind of pushing and shoving described by Jesus today.  Do we care enough for each other to bring everyone along?  Do we care enough to push ourselves to do this?

 

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