Life and Soul

Word This Week

Isaiah, depicted by Michelangelo (1475-1564) on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling

The Twenty-first Sunday of the Year
Isaiah 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7; Luke 13:22-30 (year c)

As the Book of Isaiah draws to its conclusion, it sets before us the vision of a heavenly Jerusalem come down to Earth: a place where God would dwell amongst his people. Rather than hiding themselves away from a hostile world, the inhabitants of this new Jerusalem would set out to the four corners of the Earth, to distant lands that had never heard of their God. There they would gather the nations to the Lord, bringing them to his presence in Jerusalem.

The language of Isaiah is expansive, but it expresses a truth that we cannot ignore. Salvation can never become a bastion that shields us from a hostile and at times alien world. The prophet Isaiah foresaw that those who had been called to live in the presence of the Lord would reach beyond themselves. As once they had brought sacrifices to the temple in Jerusalem, so now they would gather the nations to their Lord.

In our daily lives it is unlikely that we should embark on the epic journey envisaged by the prophet Isaiah. We shall, however, encounter many to whom an understanding of God and his ways are a foreign land. To these also the words of the prophet apply.

“I am coming to gather the nations of every language. They shall come to witness my glory.”

Without any missionary journey we can reach out to the many we encounter every day. Even without words we can bear witness to the glory of God by the example and integrity of our lives.

In the Gospel Jesus sets out to the Jerusalem that would bring to fulfilment the prophet’s vision of a New Jerusalem which would embrace the whole world. As he drew close to his goal, a question from a bystander prompted words of caution. Approaching the saving events of his death and Resurrection, he had been asked whether only a few would be saved.

He was responding to the narrow mentality of his day that reserved salvation for the few who identified themselves with the Jewish faith.

“Try your best to enter the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.”

He concluded with similar words of caution.

“Men from the East and West will come to take their places: there are those now last who will be first, and those first who will be last.”

It was a clear warning that to claim the name of Christ is not enough. We must live and die as he has lived and died. This alone becomes our resurrection in him.