We are praying with our natural fears about whether we are going to “make it”; will we be good enough. We are praying with the more than natural graces of our faith and hope. We do belong, we are included in Jesus’ embrace of us all from the cross. The natural and the supernatural are in tension within us at all times. Grace and nature form the struggle of our spiritual lives.
We can pray with the challenge that our fears and doubts create and be consoled with the comfort which our faith in Jesus provides. Belief is the choice we make to receive God’s choice not to abandon the sisters and brothers of Jesus.
I, a city boy, once asked a lad attending our school from the ranching area in western Nebraska, how large his family’s ranch might be. He answered that it was “pretty big”. I asked if it were twelve square miles and he said it probably was about that. “wow” I said, four miles one way and three the other, that’s big.” “Oh no, it’s twelve miles by twelve miles, square.” I was talking like a city dandy, and yet he knew what I meant.
Our readings deal with somewhat the same question. “How large is your God’s ranch?” We are dealing with “boundary issues” as goes the current jargon. Isaiah is concluding his prophecies with something very new in this last chapter. For all the chapters and verses written concerning the speciality of Israel as God’s flock, family and spouse, what we hear today is broadening.
Peoples from Spain to Africa and Turkey will someday be both included and brought to know their own speciality. All will come to know the glory or love of God shown first to Israel. They all shall come to Jerusalem to know the God of Israel as their God and live according to the newness of the Ancient One. Even from these strangers, God will select religious leaders to keep reminding and remembering all the people that they are who they are by God’s embrace. God’s ranch is larger than miles; territory is measured by response and the invitation has no boundaries. The boundaries are the fears, doubts, and selfishness which can limit the human response to these invitations.
Remember now, the Pharisees and religious leaders in the time of Jesus had definite “boundary issues”. In the chapter from which our Gospel reading is taken, Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath. There were strict boundaries concerning activities allowed and disallowed on this holy day of reflection and gratitude. Jesus has replied to these leaders’ being concerned with his activities. He relates three parables about a “mustard seed”, a “fig tree” and “yeast”. What we hear today is the topper!
Being “saved” by keeping the laws, such as Sabbath observances, did constitute religious belief. Jesus speaks, in today’s Gospel, right to this very issue. The “boundaries” are more around observing Jesus and his teachings. He is the “narrow gate” through whom life passes into this world and leads to the “Kingdom of God”. Jesus then puts words into the mouths of some of these leaders.
Notice carefully how Luke puts these words of protest. They are pictured as saying that “we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” Again - boundaries - there is nothing about their buying into, or becoming intimate with Jesus personally. They did not join his company or take in the teaching offered in their streets. Then the finish to the topper.
Those from beyond the geographic, national and religious boundaries have not been the first to be invited, but the “kingdom” is a broadening of the invitation to those who now will be first. Those who were first will be last and left out completely. Here Jesus is speaking directly to the Jewish leaders who are reminded that their ancient prophets, and Father Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will all be at the heavenly table with these “late” comers. Now that really is a stinger. The Jewish leaders and their followers were dedicated to their traditions and beliefs. Jesus is turning many of their traditions over and asking to let him be God’s invitation again to walk more personally with the personal God of their traditions and beliefs. This invitation is being extended beyond and in new forms, but the ancient call to trusting the inviting God remains central. Jesus is not replacing the old, but intensifying the revelation of that ancient divine love.
How big is God? How large of an embrace does God have for the human clan? Twelve square miles of ranch might seem mighty large to most of us. Twelve by twelve could seem impossibly huge. We are lately quite taken up with definitions which word literally means “putting down limits or boundaries”. Political parties, ethnic families, financial levels, and even religious groups define, limit, wall in and wall out, “Those others”. Labels create distance and distance provides the luxury of suspicion and self-ratification. The more we affirm our being identified through Jesus, the more we are available to those from the north/south and east/west. Only our walls of fear confine the growth of God’s kingdom. I’d like to picture Jesus as a doorway punched through the wall of human boundaryism.
The question for us is not about whether or not we will “make it”, but what we will make of Christ’s having made “it” for us. Holiness just might be expressed in our observing the laws of Jesus about punching holes in the human need for walls. Good fences make good boundaries, but make neighbors distant, easily misjudged and eventually, enemies.
”Go out to all the world and tell the good news.” Ps. 117
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