God calls all to conversion

By | August 10, 2011

As Americans we strive to define ourselves as a people of various ethnic backgrounds and blends living together as one. This truth can perhaps lessen the impact of Isaiah’s words from our opening reading, which grant foreigners a share in the promised redemption. The Jews understood themselves to be not only a religiously particular people, but also a people very much of a particular ethnic race, which is true. God called the Jews to be the seed from which salvation would grow to be offered to all. In today’s reading, Isaiah writes from the time of the exile of the ethnic Jews from their homeland. He speaks of the great restoration of their people back to the land promised to their forefathers. The Jews longed for a return from their exile in Babylon to the Jerusalem temple and for a time of peace in their beloved land. God promises, through the words of Isaiah, to indeed bring them back and not only them, but also any Gentile foreigners who are faithful.

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Fr. Mark Vander Steeg

This prophetic mission of calling and welcoming all people is being lived through the church as all are gathered in Christ, both Jew and Gentile alike. Isaiah makes clear however that the call of God comes with expectations. The foreigners too, like the Jews of the Covenant, must be obedient. God will bring to his “holy mountain” those foreigners who “love the name of the Lord, become his servants, keep the Sabbath free from profanation, hold to my covenant, observe what is right and do what is just.” No small order. The familiar mantra returns in that all are welcome, but all must change and be converted from sin.

This call to conversion was as difficult then as it is now. It is in this light then that St. Paul proclaims in his Letter to the Romans, “God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” That is to say, God has allowed all of us to follow our choice of sin so that he might freely manifest his great love to save each of us. Who among us has not recognized in our sin our need for God, for salvation and then encountered the beauty of his love calling us back? The call to change is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of loving God and being saved by him. We do not dictate to God how we are to live, but rather God reveals to us our way of life and how to be truly alive. He is the potter and we are the clay. Many persons walk away when the saving change seems too hard or the cross too heavy at first to bear. Life in God remains always a choice.

The value of this healed life is shown in the pleading of the Gentile woman in today’s Gospel. She desperately wants what Jesus is offering, even if just the scraps. Jesus sees in this a woman of great faith one who sees and values the gift of God in Christ. He rewards her faith and he will do the same for us.

Questions for Reflection

1. What is God calling me to change so as to be nearer to him?

2. Where has my past disobedience led to a revelation of mercy?

Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.

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