Word This Week

Word This Week

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.

This article first appeared in the August 19 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.

Word this Week

Word this Week

Third Sunday of Lent
Ex 3:1-8 & 13-15; 1 Cor 10:1-6 & 10-12; lk 13:1-9 (Year C)

“I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow.”

With these words the God of Israel revealed himself to Moses, bringing hope to an enslaved people. Here, at the burning bush, the gulf between God and sinful humanity was decisively bridged.

We can learn much from this encounter with Moses. For the tribes of Israel it had been preceded by a period of fruitless wandering, culminating with enslavement and bitter oppression in Egypt. To a suffering people, whatever their faults in the past, it must have seemed that a distant God was beyond their reach.

Lent invites us to consider our own lives. Where have our wanderings brought us? Do we experience the consequences of sin as a kind of enslavement? Do we feel as strangers in the presence of God?

For us, as for Moses and his people long ago, it is the God of mercy who takes the initiative. It was the God of their fathers, who had never abandoned them in their wanderings, who now intervened decisively to set them free. He bound himself intimately to his people through the gift of his name, and in his actions was revealed as the God of compassion and love. So it is with us. A merciful Father has watched over our past, the good and the bad. Where repentance is true, he reveals himself to us, as he revealed himself to Moses long ago. The way forward becomes his, rather than the confusion of a sinful past.

St Paul’s account of the wandering in the wilderness is a cautionary tale. Long ago the tribes of Israel escaped through the waters of the Red Sea, just as we were made one with Christ in waters of baptism. They were fed with manna in the desert, just as we are fed by Christ, the Bread of Life. Some were unmoved, refusing to abandon their sinful ways. They perished in their procrastination.

In like manner Jesus challenged his disciples. As the farmer looks for fruit from a cherished fig tree, so the Father looks for repentance in those to whom he has entrusted his beloved Son. He waits upon us, but can do nothing without our engagement. “O that today you would listen to his voice. Harden not your hearts.”