Sunday, August 14, 2016

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 21, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Multiple names of places in Scripture often create confusion for readers.  With that in mind, perhaps it's best to begin by giving these cities a modern day location.  Tarshish is the name of a port in what is now known as Spain; Put and Lud are in North Africa; Mosoch is in Italy; attempts to pinpoint Tubal are inconclusive but many scholars place it in Asia Minor; and lastly, Javan is in Greece. 
While it may be helpful to know where these places are, the message of this Reading is not limited only to these locales.  This Reading is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah Whose saving grace will flow not only to the people of Israel and these aforementioned cities but also "nations of every language". 
Isaiah prophesies that our Lord "will set a sign among" the nations.  According to Saint Jerome, that sign is actually two different things: the Cross, which Christ left to enlighten us, and the Gospel, which has the power of working miracles.  Saint Jerome adds that people of all nations shall be converted and brought by angels to the Church. 
Among the nations Christ will call some men to be ordained priests although in the royal sense, all will bear the title of priest.  "Brothers and sisters from all the nations" being brought "as an offering to the Lord" is a clear prophecy about the Sacrament of Baptism.  After receiving that sacrament, there follows the gift of being children that God can claim as belonging to Him. 
In this Reading the word "fugitives" is designed to express a division among God's people, a division that sadly still exists today and is likely to continue until the end of time.  Nevertheless, as children of the Father, disciples of the Son and willing hands for the Spirit, a shared calling among Christ's disciples is to bring a sense of unity to this division and work towards becoming truly one in the Body of Christ.  Jesus prayed: "I am in the world no more, but these are in the world as I come to You.  O Father most holy, protect them with Your Name which You have given Me that they may be one, even as We are One" (John 17:11).
Second Reading Commentary
Trials have been a part of humanity's existence since the fall of Adam and Eve.  The question, "Why me, Lord?" has probably been asked for thousands of years in countless languages.  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is not suggesting that God is up in heaven, looking down and tossing lightning bolts at those who need to be disciplined.  There have been a select few, however, who have been called to share in the Passion of Christ by bearing His physical Wounds, but again, there have been very few, and not for reasons of personal punishment.  Many of the trials faced today are because of the diversity among human beings: race, color, religion, political affiliation, etc. 
While all these human philosophies and individual idiosyncrasies are beneath the dignity of God, His unfathomable love moved Him to clothe Himself in flesh and live among His creation.  He experienced for Himself the pain and suffering that sin causes.  His Resurrection, though, has brought forth a hope for eternal joy that is beyond the wildest of dreams. 
This Reading pleads for a strengthening of "drooping hands" and "weak knees".  Trials are not sent from God but allowed by God because our Lord knows that in these trials lies an opportunity for spiritual growth and the strengthening of intimacy and reliance on the suffering Servant.  Saint Paul writes that he willingly boasts of his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon him.  He continues: "For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong" (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  Additionally from Saint Paul are the instructions: "Bear all things, believe - in all things, hope - in all things, endure all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). 
The challenge is to wholeheartedly believe what Saint Paul taught, while seeking to find a common ground among the diversity, trusting that the good will be revealed beyond the trial.
Gospel Commentary
"Lord, will only a few people be saved?"  It must have taken tremendous courage to ask that question for fear of what the answer might be.  Jesus, however, is a Teacher; and even if the answer is not what everyone wants to hear, for certain He will offer instructions and guidance on how to be among the saved. 
In the parable that Jesus uses in this Gospel, unquestionably He is referring to Himself when He speaks about "the Master of the house".  Remember, throughout this 'Journey Narrative' the overall theme is to stay focused on the things of heaven.  Jesus encourages striving to "enter through the narrow gate".  The gate could indeed be narrow when taking into consideration the success rate of all the things in today's culture that could tempt or detract attention away from our Lord and our eternal destiny. 
Jesus warns that some "will not be strong enough" to enter.  This has nothing to do with physical strength, but instead the strength of one's spiritual life.  When driving a car headed for a particular destination, staying focused results in not getting lost.  The same is true with the spiritual life.  Making time for daily prayer is the key to staying focused on the things of heaven and overcoming adversity. 
Whenever Jesus teaches in a somewhat cautionary tone, almost always He is offering guidance to avoid luke-warmness.  Instead of receiving His words fearfully, instead think about the incredible love He is offering and His desire for intimacy with His disciples.  His tone, then, is not so much a scare tactic; instead it is a plea to stay focused on the Source of all that really matters.  Only Jesus knows fully the love of the Father and His cautionary tone speaks to us and says: "Don't miss out on this!"  Jesus is not the One Who keeps us outside of the gate; only we can do that to ourselves.  Our Lord's salvation has always been available to all, but unfortunately, not all will accept His gracious invitation.  By faithfully staying close to the Truth, that which is false becomes a locked gate that cannot be entered into; nor is entering into it desirable.  At worse, its entrance way is narrow because of temptation.  But when faithful to the Truth, the gate belonging to the Master of the house is opened wide. 
If your parish follows the Church's prescribed verse before the proclamation of the Gospel, found there is the reminder of how we are saved: Alleluia, alleluia, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father, except through Me.  Alleluia, alleluia.