Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
God opens salvation to all people
God is God of the whole world breaking down the walls of ethnic distinctions
August 26, 2001, Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Today's Gospel contains an important teaching lesson. We have no
reason to suspect that like at other times the question asked was
to test Jesus. In fact the question might be one that Luke used
to illustrate what he too wanted to teach.
We begin though with the first reading for its message was one
that certainly was part of the background of what Jesus knew and
wanted to teach. The reading is taken from the prophet Isaiah.
Scholars believe this passage comes from what they call the
"Third Isaiah." In other words, the author who follows in the
tradition of the first Isaiah, probably lived after the Exile and
lived in land of Israel. He pictures for his people a future time
in which people of all nations would be brought together. They
would include not just the Jews who had returned from Babylon but
pagans from the many nations that surrounded them. What is
striking is that these pagans too would come to worship the true
This is written during a time in which Judaism is struggling to
maintain its identity. Some believed that this meant living in
isolation, building a wall around them to keep foreigners out.
The Book of Jonah may have been written to give another
perspective and help them understand that God was the God of all
people. This prophet too wanted them to believe God was not just
a tribal God but the God of the whole world. So he pictures this
stream of different people coming to Jerusalem to worship. The
most surprising element is that God will call for some of them to
be priests and Levites, just as certain people were in Israel.
God was breaking down the walls of ethnic and cultic
So Jesus' teaching should be understood in this context. Israel
still lived in isolation. To associate with a foreigner still
made one ritually impure. Judaism was not missionary minded. Few
pagans converted totally to Judaism accepting all of the
prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. Some saw the richness of
Judaism's moral and religious laws. They lived by them and were
often called "God-fearers."
Jesus turned the question around as he did with the scribe who
wished to test him. Jesus wanted the questioner to look at his or
her own search for salvation. He begins with the strong word,
"Strive," which implies do everything, using all one's energy to
achieve salvation. Jesus emphasizes that it will always be a
struggle. It will not be enough to simply have the invitation. It
will not be enough to be members of a specific group.
They must live their commitment. Some may be surprised that those
they thought were outsiders will be admitted to the banquet and
they themselves will not make it. The banquet, of course, is the
messianic banquet, which God will provide. As in Isaiah's
message, people will come from all nations. It means that
righteous Gentiles will be feasting with patriarchs like Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob.
The Kingdom of God will surprise many. It will reverse
expectations. God will open salvation to all. Jesus teaches that
those who are often considered outcasts will attend the banquet
while those who considered themselves religious and thought they
had it made will find themselves outside. So one should be
careful to as Jesus said 'Strive and use all your energy to
achieve the Kingdom.'
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious
studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)