for Sunday, August 21, 2016
All discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it—this quote from the second reading today expresses the teaching of the readings for this 21st Sunday of the year.
Most of us prefer the peaceful fruit of righteousness but without the pain of discipline. Yet the Scriptures are so clear: we must learn discipline in order to love God and others. It is only discipline learned in trying to be faithful to God that will help us embrace the pains that ultimately lead to joy.
The first reading today is from the Prophet Isaiah. This prophet has many passages that express tenderness and love and joy and delight. The passage today is not that way! Today's passage is not difficult and not a sour teaching. When we hear these words, we can feel some consolation: "I know their works and their thoughts…; they shall come and see my glory.
This passage implies, however, that God chooses us. We like to think that we choose God. Of course, both aspects are true, but even in our choosing of God, it is God who acts and chooses us. We humans almost always think of ourselves as autonomous and able to choose whatever we want. That is indeed a part of our freedom. Yet if we choose against God, we choose slavery and not freedom.
The Letter to the Hebrews from which our second reading today is taken, tells us that we have forgotten God or at least we have forgotten the discipline needed to seek God. Often we want to feel encouraged by positive words, but the early Christian writers were not afraid also to tell the truth: we have become unfaithful. Many of us experience that from time to time. We become aware of our brokenness and our inability to seek God just with our own will power. The challenge again is to keep on trying, trusting that God will eventually help us.
Luke's Gospel today reminds us: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." There is always hope as we keep on striving. It is when we stop striving and stop seeking God that the way forward begins to block us.
So we can think of the message of this Sunday as encouragement to keep on striving to be faithful to God, even when we can see and know our own failures. It is as if God Himself is telling us: Do not give up hope! Trust in the Lord forever.
Readings of the day:
First Reading: Isaiah 66.18-21
Second Reading: Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13
Gospel: Luke 13.22-30
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: