The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
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 God.

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 distinctions.

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.)

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