Ordinary Time 21, Year C-2010
- My heart stands in awe of your words (Ps. 119:161)
One might say disagreement and conflict are almost as old as humanity. Early in the book of Genesis alone, we find Adam and Eve disagreeing on who to blame really for their disobedience. Then we see Cain’s differences with Abel lead to fratricide. We read, too, of the boastful readiness of Lamech, a descendant of murderous Cain and the first bigamist in the bible, to exact extreme revenge upon anyone he could come into conflict with.
Not infrequently, then, one is on one side; another on the other. Those on one side normally consider as outsiders those on the other side. Regardless of what or whose side one is on, one, of course, is absolutely sure of himself or herself being inside, not outside; everyone is certain of not being last and deserving of condemnation, but rather of being first and assured of commendation.
Jesus, however, warns us not be so very sure of where we think we are or stand. For one thing, roles can easily be reversed. “Some are last who will be first,” he wants us to take note, “and some are first who will be last.” The wide gate of orthodox teachings and conventions that guarantees easy entry to huge crowds may not be what it purports to be, so that one is left standing outside and unable to enter. One has to take the narrow gate, enduring trials and accepting the challenge to strengthen one’s drooping hands and weak knees. Jesus tells those who think God owes it to them to let them in for their undeniable piety and prayers, their uncompromising adherence to and staunch defense of true and official doctrine, their publicly recognized and remarkable efforts and works: “There will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.” And this is surely addressed not just to the scribes and Pharisees.
For another thing, Jesus holds up the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the reestablished Israel, made up not just of the Jews, those inside, but also of the Gentiles, those outside. The people who will form the new Israel will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south. Even those deemed to be outside will the Lord take as priests and Levites, says Isaiah in disagreement with the prophets Ezekiel, Haggai and Zechariah, who would restrict the priesthood to the Zadokites and remove from even other Levites important cultic functions (1). For Jesus as well as for Isaiah, arguing in effect against those prophets who rejected not only the Gentiles but even those Jews who never went into exile (2), more important than the temple and the formal worship it requires is humble respect and observance of God’s word. The Lord takes pleasure not in the temple or other structures human beings can build in his honor or the external worship that often ends up loathsomely idolatrous; he approves rather the lowly and afflicted person who is at awe of his word (Is. 66:1-3; cf. Ps. 25:9) and humbly confesses lack of understanding.
It appears, therefore, that the criterion of belongingness to or membership in the family, or people, of God is fundamentally none other than hearing the word of God and keeping it, as we have it in Lk. 8:21 and 11:28. And this implies more than mere casual eating and drinking with Jesus or being occasionally instructed by him. “One must share in his life as symbolized by his table fellowship with the lowly” (3). It is following the Christian way that “demands total allegiance to Jesus and provides travel companions from all over the globe as well as places at the eschatological banquet” (4), a foretaste of which we have in the Eucharist, as St. Thomas Aquinas’ poem, O Sacrum Convivium, indicates.
To examine ourselves in order to discern where we are or stand and know whether we are genuinely inside rather than outside supposes discerning the body of the Lord, which eliminates divisions and guarantees agreement and communion, effecting and signifying the oneness in mind and heart that we ask for in today’s collect prayer (cf. 1 Cor. 11:27-29).
- (1) Cf. The New Jerome Bibilical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1990) 21:70.
- (2) Ibid., 21:68.
- (3) Ibid., 43:141.
- (4) Ibid. Cf. Tit. 1:7, on injunction against a bishop being arrogant or overbearing.