Today’s first reading gives us some of the last few verses of the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. It appropriately sounds a triumphal note, a vision of all the nations of the world streaming up to the heavenly Jerusalem to partake in the heavenly banquet at the end of time. Note the mention of the far-away places that undoubtedly seemed so exotic to the ears of Old Testament Jews, all to emphasize the universality of the salvation promised by God to the human race.
This vision stands in stark contrast to the partial answer Jesus gives to the bold question about how many people will be saved. To challenge his listeners, Jesus concentrates on the imagery of the “narrow gate” and “locked door” that confront those who seek to be saved. Yet in the end Jesus himself appeals finally to the Isaian imagery of people coming from the four corners of the earth to “recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
The two readings, therefore, in the end leave us with some ambiguity about how the grace of salvation is to be distributed by God.
The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews harks back to an experience every adult has shared, the lessons of childhood teaching us the constraints of human society. Maybe the way God instills his grace in us is much the same—so that God can strengthen our “drooping hands and weak knees” in order to heal us along life’s journey.
—Walter Modrys SJ
This Sunday’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.