Most of us dread to hear the word "discipline." It conjures up images of restriction. It limits our behavior and creates a narrow lifestyle. Even if it comes from God, we still cringe at its mention. What's worse, the author of today's Hebrews pericope pulls no punches.
"My child, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him, for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines, he scourges every child he acknowledges." It reminds me of the famous comment of St. Theresa of Avila to God, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so many enemies.” We have enough problems with human discipline; we certainly don't need God stepping into the picture.
Yet, God's biblical discipline is a unique process. Contrary to most human conditioning, it prepares us to habitually open up, to shed the limits which restrict most people's thoughts and behavior. We clearly see this new type of freeing discipline in our other two readings.
One of Third-Isaiah's major tasks is to get the former Babylonian captives to return to the Promised Land. Though the Persians had conquered the Babylonians and permitted the Israelite exiles to go back home, the majority eventually decided to stay in Babylon. Jerusalem was just a heap of ruins. They didn't want to spend the rest of their lives rebuilding the city.
The prophet agrees that if Yahweh's chosen people are concerned only with their own well-being, they'd be better off staying put. But if they're interested in playing a role in God's plan for the whole world, they have an obligation to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The "Yahweh-disciplined" must always break through their narrow mindedness and look at the world as God looks at it, including Yahweh's outside-the-envelope mentality in their decision. Contrary to their limited world-view, they follow a God who includes non-Jews in his/her plans. Their actions will determine whether some of those Gentiles will become followers of Yahweh or remain devotees of other gods.
"I come," Yahweh announces, "to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them ...." But for that event to happen, the Gentiles must have a special place to come to: Jerusalem. Yahweh's people and Yahweh's city will be a sign of Yahweh's global plan for the salvation of non-Jews. God's disciples must always be trained to think big - real big.
Luke's Jesus is working from the same frame of mind when he encourages his followers to "enter through the narrow gate." Ironically, for Jesus and his imitators the narrow gate is always the gate of broad-mindedness. When someone asks him about the number of people who will be saved, Jesus answers with a statement about the kind of people who will be saved. Obviously a lot of the "good folk" are going to be on the outside looking in at people they never thought had a chance at salvation. "People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God." Meanwhile, a lot of those who thought salvation was an iron-clad cinch will be "wailing and grinding their teeth," completely shocked they haven't been invited to the big event.
Perhaps the best way to discipline ourselves according to God's method is to constantly remind ourselves of Jesus' last statement in today's pericope. "Behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last." It's an exceptional, no holds barred way of looking at reality.