Bulletin: August 25, 2019
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our readings today remind us of the larger story of the Bible, of God’s purposes and promises for the world. Because of humanity’s rejection of God, as told in Genesis, human communities were first dispersed. Isaiah proclaims that one day God will gather these communities to be healed and reconciled with God. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus echoes Isaiah and teaches that all peoples in God’s promised future “will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Notice that in Isaiah, the nations coming to God do not lose their ethnicity or unique identity. They bring their own distinct cultural gifts to God’s table. Each people has its unique history with God, has received distinct blessings from God, and each is accountable to God. Today, we live in a global and multi-cultural Church. When God’s diverse peoples gather in worship today, may we honor and celebrate each other’s gifts and blessings.
ISRAEL AND THE NATIONS
The Old Testament is the story of God and the people of Israel. Today we can also see that other peoples—“the nations”—are important participants in the story. It was a crowded Middle East, and other nations like Egypt, Canaan, and Babylon were often close observers of Israel’s encounters with God. They witnessed God’s judgment upon Israel and God’s restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 36). God’s reputation spread widely among them. God ruled them and blessed them (Psalm 47, Psalm 67).
In today’s reading from Isaiah, the author presents a vision that all nations will one day be gathered to worship God. They will be accepted in God’s house as full members, and blessed with God’s salvation (Isaiah 56, Isaiah 19). God’s intention all along was to form Israel so as to invite “the nations” to participate in the great plan. When God first called Abraham, God said “I will bless you . . . All the families of the earth will find blessing in you” (Genesis 12). We, the Church today, share in this call.
THE LAST AND FIRST
Jesus’ phrase in Luke’s Gospel today—“some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last”—also appears in similar form in Matthew (20:16) and Mark (10:31). All are concluding statements of a teaching of Jesus, but each appears in a different context. In Matthew, the phrase concludes the parable of the vineyard workers, upsetting listeners’ expectations of work and reward. In Mark, wealth is presented as an obstacle to salvation, again reversing expectations.
In Luke, when asked whether only a few may be saved, Jesus shifts the focus to who is best able to receive God’s invitation. Following his healing of a woman on the Sabbath (13:11–17), Jesus emphasizes compassion over a narrow interpretation of Jewish law. To his listeners’ surprise, Jesus announces that those who practice compassion, rather than those in religious leadership, are the first to understand and accept God’s salvation.
Today’s Readings: Is 66:18–21; Ps 117:1, 2; Heb 12:5–7, 11–13; Lk 13:22–30