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AUGUST 26, 2007: Twenty-First Sunday of the Year


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

When we think about discipline, we often conjure up thoughts of being restricted from doing or experiencing things we enjoy. So we're not really excited today by the Hebrews author's remark, "Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him." Just one more limit on our freedom.

Perhaps we've forgotten what the historical Jesus was all about. Given our own historical background, it's easy to forget this Galilean carpenter didn't spend the precious few months of his public ministry founding a new religious institution. Those who paused long enough to listen to this itinerant preacher's message discovered he was interested not in providing them with new information to store in their minds, but in changing the way their minds processed the information they'd already stored and were continuing to receive. Jesus was driven to help change the way people looked at reality; to see aspects and dimensions of the situations, things and people around them that they'd never before noticed. Only when they began to do this would they begin to experience God working in their lives.

Expanding our minds is one of the most difficult things we'll ever do. Over the years we've reached a plateau in our mental development. We're comfortable reflecting on our experiences from a particular perspective. We've developed certain categories into which we place (or squeeze) those who cross our paths. Long ago we squelched the wonder and amazement which is such an essential part of a child's approach to reality. Now we often know the answer before we've even heard the question.

Jesus was in the "mind-expanding" business. We know from his "missionary" advice to his followers that he didn't stick around long when people refused to expand. He spent most of his time evangelizing those willing to take that all important, expansive step.

In today's gospel pericope, Jesus fields a closed-minded question and gives an open-minded response. "Someone asked him, 'Lord, will only a few people be saved?'"

He instinctively informs the person, "You're asking the wrong question. How does the number of people saved affect your own salvation?"

Jesus then explains part of what it means "to enter through the narrow gate." The concept doesn't revolve around being a member of an "in group." Those who don't even share our religious affiliation are just as (often more) likely to join in that great heavenly banquet as we are.

Another mind-expander, Third-Isaiah, delivered a similar message five hundred years before Jesus. Instead of viewing the two Jewish exiles as punishments from Yahweh, the prophet is convinced they provided a way to introduce Gentiles to faith in Yahweh. These non-Jewish believers will not only join their Jewish brothers and sisters in rebuilding Jerusalem, but God will reward them by taking some of them as priests and Levites - professions reserved for just one family within one tribe of Israel - something unheard of among Jews.

Through the centuries we've discovered our Hebrews author is correct. The open-minded discipline of Jesus often "seems a cause not for joy, but for pain." Those who develop and practice Jesus' open-mindedness will always suffer as Jesus suffered. Many of those we encounter in our daily lives have no idea how to deal with such a unique frame of mind. Often their only recourse is to try to annihilate it or the person possessing it.

Yet the writer encourages us to persevere in practicing this discipline. It alone "brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it." We can never forget that the righteous scriptural person is the one doing what God wants her or him to do.