By Martin Jumbam
celebrates Sunday, August 25, 2013 as the 21st Sunday of Ordinary
Time in the Church’s Year C. In the entrance antiphon we pray, “Turn your ears, O Lord, and answer me;
save the servant who trusts in you, my God. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry
to you all the day long. Amen.”
In the first reading, the prophecy of Isaiah finds fulfillment in Saint Luke’s Gospel, namely, that men and women will come from east and west, from north and south and inherit the kingdom of God. Salvation is therefore not restricted to any one particular race or nation. All are called to be God’s people. It is a prophecy that is full of hope for all nations whom the chosen people will attract to Jerusalem to worship in the Lord’s temple. Foreign peoples will also become missionaries, carrying God’s word of salvation to the four corners of the world. This universal, that is, Catholic nature of the Church is reflected in Saint Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem and his preaching of this day is in answer to a question someone had asked earlier as to how many would be saved. Jesus tells his followers that the time is running out for Israel. The door is narrow because the Scribes and Pharisees have made it difficult for themselves, and impossible for the people under their care, to enter. They are the lost sheep of the house of Israel who have refused to listen to the Lord and have forfeited their place around the table to the Gentile world. In the second reading, the sacred writer of Hebrews urges us to remain firm in our allegiance to Christ and his Church, which is open to all, Jew and Gentile alike. We should be consoled in having to put up with trials and persecutions for the sake of the Gospel. God, as our loving Father, cannot neglect our education because we have to be properly trained so that when trials and tribulations come, and they are bound to come, we will be better disciplined to withstand them.
First Reading: Isaiah 66: 18-21.
Thus says the Lord: “I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the islands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the sons of Israel bring their cereal offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And some of them also I will take for priests and Levites, says the Lord.”
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to
The prophet Isaiah is the first of the
Major Prophets of the Bible, the second being Jeremiah, the third Ezekiel and
the fourth Daniel. The prophet Isaiah is often considered the greatest of the
prophets. He was born in about 765 BC of a Jerusalem aristocratic family. He
received his prophetic vocation in 740 BC and his long ministry spanned a
period of over forty years, a period dominated by the ever increasing threat to
Israel and Judah by the Assyrians.
The Book of
Isaiah covers three distinct periods of Israel’s history. The first part,
chapters 1-39, was written by the prophet himself; the second and third parts
were written by other prophets when the people of Israel were in exile in
Babylon and after their return.
The passage for
our meditation is taken from the last chapter of Isaiah. It has a number of
themes: judgments against various nations; remembrance of God’s kindness
towards Israel and a desire for him to reveal himself again; the judgment that
will take place at the end resulting in the new creation and messianic peace, as
well as the new people that will come into being and join all the nations in
pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
It begins by
announcing that the glory of the Lord will be proclaimed to the nations, and
they will respond by flocking in pilgrimage to the temple of the Lord. The
exile in Babylon will come to be seen as divine punishment inflicted on the
people for their sins, for their breaking the Covenant. But God, in his mercy
towards his people, will pardon them and have them come back to his holy
mountain, Jerusalem. This gathering will also involve “all nations and
tongues”. The return to Zion is a sign that God has wiped away his people’s
What lesson do
we draw from this reading? Isaiah’s prophecy bears God’s promise for all the
nations. His chosen people will attract them all to Jerusalem and foreign
peoples, not only the Jews, will even become God’s missionaries, carrying his
word to all the nations of the world. That is the message Pope Paul VI, the first
Supreme Pontiff to visit Africa, told the Symposium of African Bishops in
Kampala, Uganda, in 1969. “By now,” he said, “you Africans are now missionaries
to yourselves. The Church of Christ is well and truly planted in this blessed
Africans are not only missionaries to themselves, that is, to the Church in
Africa, but they have become missionaries to the whole world. So let us pray that
God should increase vocations in our Church so that Africa many continue to
send missionaries into the world as a whole. “Lord Jesus, raise from among us
worthy sons and daughters to carry your word, not only into our country but to the
world. We make our supplication through
Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Second Reading: Hebrews
12: 5-7. 11-13.
Brethren, have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure, God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put our of joint but rather be healed.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to
As we said last Sunday, and it is worth
repeating, the Letter to the Hebrews is one of the most imposing and important
books in the New Testament. It was written principally to show the superiority
of Christianity over the Old Covenant. It focuses on the idea that Christ's
priesthood and sacrifice are superior to those of the priests of old. The
author clearly indicates that the Law of Moses is not capable of saving mankind
which has fallen through Adam’s sin. Christ has therefore, through his cross,
abolished and replaced the Old Law with the new Law of the Gospel, which is the
law of grace, freedom and interior challenge. This sacred writer uses this
teaching as the basis for encouraging his readers to persevere in the faith
despite the difficulties they may face in their Christian life. The Letter to
the Hebrews is therefore a word of exhortation to steadfastness in faith, which
is anchored on Jesus Christ in whom we believe.
writer teaches us that God, our loving Father, does not neglect our education.
We would not grow into full maturity in our Christian faith if we were not
properly trained. In the course of this training, discipline is essential so
the lesson can be well assimilated. Suffering is therefore a sign of God’s
paternal love for us. When we are incorporated into Christ through baptism, we
become God’s children and he becomes our Father. A father disciplines his
child, not because he hates him but because he loves him. The result of God’s
training is peace and calmness of mind in every difficulty we meet in life.
therefore not be seen as a cruel or pitiless father but rather as a good father
who brings up his children in an affectionate but firm way. Trials and
difficulties are a sign that God’s divine teaching method is working well. He
uses them to educate us and discipline us.
We know that the
experience of suffering often generates doubts regarding our faith because it
makes us wonder how God, who loves us, can send suffering into the world. But
God did not spare his own Son, but sent him to earth to die for our own
salvation. Christ himself tells us that
if we want to follow him we must pick up our cross and follow him. The road to
salvation is not an easy one. It calls for sacrifices. Let us pray to God to
strengthen our faith so that when adversities come our way, we should bear them
as our own cross. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 13: 22-30.
At that time Jesus went on his way through towns and villages, teaching, and journeying towards Jerusalem. And some one said to him, “Lord, will there be only a few saved?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ “He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
V/ The Gospel of the Lord.
R/ Praise to
you, Lord Jesus Christ.
While Jesus is
making his way to Jerusalem, someone asks him about the number of those who
will be saved. “Lord, will there be only a few saved?” (v.23). As usual, Jesus
does not give a direct response to his question. Rather than speculate about
numbers, he gives a practical advice to follow: “Try your best to enter by the
narrow door because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed”
(v.24). The door to salvation is not
such that you can casually walk in anytime; it is narrow and calls for some
effort to pass through.
The door will
not remain permanently open, though. Once the master of the house has bolted
the door, those who miss the opportunity to enter will no longer be admitted.
Those who come late will remind the master of the time they spent together in a
bar or a restaurant in their street but the master will not be impressed. He
will tell them, ‘I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you
workers of iniquity!’ Then there will be much gnashing of teeth in darkness.
The pain of
being excluded from the kingdom is made worse when those excluded will see the
quality of members the master has admitted as his own. They will not
necessarily be kings and princes and princesses of this world. Yes, those among
them who merit it will be there but our Lord’s preference has always been for
the weak, the marginalized, the orphan, the widow, ordinary folks, who will come
from east and west, north and south to take a seat at the master’s table. The
prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading will become reality as people admitted
into the Lord’s kingdom will come from all nations, not only from among the
Jews. Gentiles too will not only be admitted but will also take God’s word to
the four corners of the world as missionaries.
Saint Paul tells
his faithful servant Timothy, that everyone is called to form part of God’s
kingdom, for he desires all men and women to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Christ came
to open the gates of heaven to everyone but it depends on whether we choose to
enter or to remain outside. He gives us the freedom to accept or reject
salvation. So our salvation is not only in God’s hands, we too have much to do
with it. If we are faithful to the commandment of love of God and love of
neighbor, which our Lord left us before going up to his Father, we will surely
join him around his banquet table.
Knowing the Lord
and listening to his preaching is not enough to get us into heaven. God judges
us on how well we respond to the grace he gives us for free: “Not everyone who
says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does
the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:22).
What does this
Gospel message tell us as Christians living in the city of Douala today? To
know how fortunate we are to be invited to join God’s people around the Lord’s
table, let us not forget that Jewish people regarded themselves as the only
beneficiaries of the messianic promise made by prophets. It took the likes of
the prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, to remind them that God’s grace is
for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. This message was reiterated by Jesus
Christ as he loudly proclaimed that salvation is open to all humanity.
Saint Paul is
very clear on this when he tells his converts of Ephesus that “For he [Christ]
is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall,
through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that
he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing
the hostility to an end” (Eph 2: 14-16).
Jesus therefore counts us among those who listen to his word: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 8: 21). The kingdom of heaven is open to all of us provided we take the time to listen to the word of the Lord. Let us therefore pray to the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith so we can listen to and act on God’s word since our admission into his banquet hall depends on our fidelity to his word. We make our supplication through Christ our Lord. Amen.