In the first reading for today, Isaiah taps into our deep longing to enter into the strong city of our God. Inquiring minds want to know: Who may enter there? What is it like? Where can we find this city?
Each of us has many reasons to be distressed. Disorder and injustice in our world vexes us mightily. Deep in our spirit, we groan and seek relief. Sometimes, the pressure seems relentless. The particulars of our distress may differ from the ancients, but we share with them a longing for protection, for a refuge, where we can get away from this distress and find peace.
Though humans commonly seek after peace and security, many are confused about the path to reach it. The lofty city that Isaiah mentions looks pretty good from a distance. This is the city that men and women build for themselves. They cast aside the wisdom of the ages and seek to reinvent their own world where they can do what pleases them. Driven by desire, some keep climbing and fool themselves into thinking they are masters not only of themselves but of their world. But this sense of security and appearance of triumph is short-lived. Desire does not lead to peace and security, only to more desire and dissatisfaction.
It seems significant to me that Isaiah tells us a nation comes in to the strong city, not just a scattering of individuals going it alone. This nation will itself be just, keep the faith, and be “of firm purpose”. Isaiah would see that the Church is to become this nation, comprised of all the faithful throughout time. But the Gospel for today, with its familiar parable of the house on the rock (another metaphor for a strong city and place of refuge) contains a severe warning: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
The peace and security we seek from living on the house on the rock or in the strong city requires some humility. First, we need to stop and listen to the Lord, who indeed is Lord of all. Second, we must act accordingly, becoming part of that people of firm purpose who are called to do justice, to love His mercy, and to walk humbly before him. This is not a solitary journey, but one which requires the company of fellow travelers. Through the Church, we can listen to the Word and receive the instruction and forgiveness that we desperately need. There we can also form ourselves together as a people of justice and of firm purpose, living and breathing the life God gives to us through His Son. Thanks be to God for this gift to us. May we humble ourselves and learn to trust deeply in our Lord in these troubled times, who alone gives us His peace.