21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Isaiah provides the first reading for this weekend. Isaiah is a fascinating book of Scripture. It covers a long period of Hebrew history. Its early chapters deal with events and conditions in the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah, before the kingdom’s conquest by the mighty Babylonian army.
Then, as the book progresses, it tells of the plight of the Hebrews taken to Babylon, the imperial capital, where they and their descendants languished for four generations.
At last the Hebrews were allowed to return, but the homeland that they found was hardly the “land flowing with milk and honey.” It was sterile, lifeless and bleak. It must have been difficult not to succumb to cynicism or outright rejection of God. Did God lead them to this awful place after all that they have experienced in Babylon? Was this God’s confirmation of the Covenant?
This same dreary situation pertains to the words of the book read on this weekend. Unceasingly and without any doubt, however, the prophet calls the people to reaffirm their devotion to God. God will rescue them and care for them.
For its second reading, the Church on this weekend presents a reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the late part of the first century AD, when this epistle was composed, the plight of the Jews was not good. In fact, in 70 AD, the Jews rose up against the Romans, and the Jews paid a dreadful price for their audacity.
Things were as bad as they were in the days of the last part of Isaiah, from which came the reading heard earlier this weekend.
Nevertheless, as the prophets so often had encouraged the people in the past, the author of Hebrews assured the people of the first century that God would protect them and, after all the trials, would lead them to life eternal.
St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is a somber reading, indeed a warning. Indeed, life is eternal. God lives and reigns in an eternal kingdom. Jesus has the key to the gate.
But, entry into the kingdom is possible only for those who make themselves worthy by their own fidelity to God and to God’s law.
For several weeks, the Church, either directly or indirectly, has taught us in the weekend readings at Mass that earthly life is not the only experience of living for humans. Earthly life is not eternal.
Eternity is forever, and it is real, either in the kingdom of heaven, or in the everlasting regret and pain of hell. If nothing else, hell is a place of grief that opportunities for eternal joy were spurned or rejected by voluntary sin.
God offers us every opportunity, and every aid, on our way to reach heaven. He gave us Jesus as our Redeemer and companion as we move toward heaven. One with the Father, God, Jesus forgives us, strengthens us, guides us, restores us and finally places us at the banquet table of heaven.
Still, all this being the case, humans can ignore or outright turn away from God’s love, so lavishly given in Jesus.
This is critical. Humans create their own destiny. They decide, individually, to accept God and God’s assisting grace. The choice belongs to them.
Basically, the decision to be, or not to be, a disciple is the choice of submitting to God and accepting God’s grace or of putting self above everything.
The prophets and the Gospel warn us. The Church warns us, but the message is filled with promise and security. God will assist us through Jesus and will give us eternal life if we simply and realistically acknowledge our need for divine help and guidance and if we truly love God.
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