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AUGUST 22, 2010: TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Isaiah 66:18-21
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30

Anyone with a narrow, restricted view of discipline will have a hard time appreciating today’s readings.

Our Hebrews author provides us with a unique twist on the term when he writes, “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.”

According to its dictionary definition, discipline is “training that corrects, molds or perfects.” Those who listen carefully to our first and second readings will note that biblical discipline fits the definition. Our sacred authors are certainly trying to correct, mold, and perfect their readers, but it’s in a way most people aren’t accustomed to being corrected, molded and perfected.

In their recent book The Invisible Gorilla, psychologists Chris Chabris and Dan Simmons point out a disturbing fact: in any given situation, we humans can only depend on seeing the things on which we’re actually focusing our eyes. Though things on which we’re not focusing often pass through our field of vision, we almost never notice them. (The book’s title refers to a famous experiment the authors conducted. They asked people to count the number of passes one specific basketball team made during a game. While they were doing this, a girl in a gorilla outfit walked the length of the court, even weaving between players. Most pass-counters never saw the gorilla!)

The authors conclude there’s little we can do to improve our ability to notice the “unexpected.” We can only admit that no one ever sees everything, and be conscious of the fact that we never have a complete picture of what goes on around us. There’s constantly something out of focus.

Without having read Chabris and Simmons’ book, our sacred authors agree with their thesis. One of our biblical writers’ goals is to train their readers to focus on things invisible to many other viewers.

Both Third-Isaiah and Luke focus our eyes on an aspect of God’s actions most “religious folk” rarely notice: God is constantly saving and working with the very people we presume are beyond such actions.

The prophet’s reference is a bit more “esoteric” than the evangelist’s. When Third-Isaiah writes - during the last years of the 6th century BCE - only Jewish men from the tribe of Levi can act as priests and Levites in the Jerusalem temple. Yet, as Carroll Stuhmueller notes in his Jerome Biblical Commentary article, “This book (Third-Isaiah) ends with a most radical announcement. Gentiles (will) take their place in the priesthood.” Or, as the prophet puts it, “Some of these (Gentiles) I will take as priests and Levites, says Yahweh.” Almost no one in Third-Isaiah’s audience focused on that aspect of Yahweh’s actions. As good Jews, they were basically interested in how Yahweh related to Jews. Gentiles were off the screen.

Luke’s Jesus is much clearer on the subject of our ability to see the “outs and ins” around us. “There will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you (Jews) see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. 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. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

It’s easy to brush off such an unexpected development by saying, “it all depends on how you look at it.” Yet we can never forget that God and our sacred authors are constantly disciplining us to “look at it” from their focus, not ours.