Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
- Isaiah 66:18-21
- Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
- Luke 13:22-30
It is an intrinsic desire of the human heart to hope for something better because we were created by Him who desires for us that better place and that better life; that some ‘thing’ that we cannot achieve on our own. Outside of hope well-placed in God, our intrinsic desire has no recourse but to hope in those things that are passing and perishing; we hope for more money; we hope for a better job; a better car; a better spouse; a better house, and so on and so forth. Yet, what the readings and liturgy of the Holy Mass today remind us is that our hope is in vain if our hope is not in He who authored the very reason for our hope.
For the Jews, who hated being persecuted by their neighbors and subjected to foreign rule, there was nothing greater that one could hope for than the coming of the Kingdom of God where they would finally be able to dwell and worship in peace. That great hope of the Jewish people was best expressed in no greater detail than by the prophet Ezekiel, but no hope better known than the vision attested to by John at the end of the book of Revelation. The image of the New Jerusalem of God’s reign on earth is an important theme to know about in the Scriptures and is featured in today’s reading from the final chapter of Isaiah. Here, the author offers us another image of what is to come in this New Jerusalem. In particular, what is vital to Isaiah in context to the other readings today is the reality of the universality – the catholicity of God’s persistent call of His People from “all nations and tongues”, those who have never “heard of my fame or seen my glory,” says the Lord. They will come to their God however they can, He says “upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon dromedaries.”
This image of the New Jerusalem is fulfilled through the liturgy of the Holy Mass in the Priest celebrant’s confession drawn from Psalm 113 and Malachi 1:11, “you never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” For the faithful who are now enduring a tyranny of evil in this world and in even in some quarters of our Church, this hope for the New Jerusalem cannot come soon enough. Lord when will you come again?
The second reading at Mass today from Hebrews 12:5-13 speaks of the grace found in enduring and preserving through trials, tribulations, and persecution because when such adversity arises, it means that the Lord permits it for our good. “Endure your trials as “discipline,” says the author of Hebrews and “make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.” The reason why the faithful will endure such trials and sufferings in the world is because the Christ whom we follow endured them first. He said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). Truly, the closer you walk to Christ Jesus, the more your life will resemble His. Likewise, if your priest or your bishop betrays you, it is because Judas betrayed Christ first.
On His way to Jerusalem, someone approached Jesus and asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Only in a world that is more interested in quantity, rather than quality, does a question like this makes any sense. People of this world are always concerned about counting things; they always want to keep score and tally; of who’s in and who’s out. Answers to questions like these are vitally important to quantifiers. It is not enough for them to know that the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem is coming – no, they want to know who made the final cut. Yet, in His answer, Jesus echoes what we have been hearing from exhortation to the Hebrews; that salvation belongs to those who run the race and persevere through the trials and tribulations, saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Jesus then describes the situation of those who fail to enter through the narrow gate in saying, “and there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” The final verse of Isaiah describes it this way, “They shall go out and see the corpses of the people who rebelled against me; For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be extinguished; and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Together, these readings at the Holy Mass this Sunday sings of how the liturgy strengthens our faith in the hope of the coming of the New Jerusalem.
The heart that is restlessly hoping for a better life finds that hope fulfilled in the Mass, because there Christ Jesus is. For, where the King is, there is His Kingdom, and where Christ Jesus is, there is the New Jerusalem. In this way, the liturgy of the Mass gives us a just a foretaste of what Heaven will be like in God’s presence and all of His People adoring the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their true glory.
But let us not be too idealist and romantic. For it is also true that when for the last two-thousand years at times we’ve had a Church that rewarded evil, unorthodoxy, and worldliness more boldly than it called sinners to repent, it has taken a great deal of faith for many to preserve to the end, but it was through that trial that they found the narrow way. There have always been far too many bishops, priests, and religious orders in our Church that have made it clear that they despise our Lord, and because they hate Him, they hate us. Yet, just as Isaiah saw the corpses of the people who rebelled against God, and those in the master’s house heard knocking, wailing, and grinding of teeth outside the door, so do the faithful today walk amongst the dying and the already dead.
Yet, our hope is in what the Holy Mass promises, that those who gather to worthily consume Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ Jesus are then, thereby, equipped to run the race against sin, keeping the straight path, and to enter the New Jerusalem through the narrow gate.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.