1st Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21
From The Word into Life, p. 96: This first reading is taken from that part of the Book of Isaiah called Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66), which was composed by an unknown prophet (or prophets) around 500BC (and possibly later). It proclaims a message of exceptional universalism – the God of Israel loves everyone. First the Gentiles will actually serve as Yahweh’s missionaries; they’ll proclaim Yahweh’s glory in remote regions of Spain, Africa, Greece, and Asia Minor. In the process, “they shall bring all your kindred from all the nations” – those exiled Israelites who have lost hope and those who have forgotten their God – “to my holy mountain.” And some will be called to enter the elite ranks of the priests and to become Levites, or assistants, to the priests. This is indeed a world without prejudice or bias. In what ways do you experience a feeling of unity, of being one with others, in your family, in your work place, in your neighborhoods, in the Church?
2nd Reading; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
From Word & Worship, p. 454-455: The discipline spoken of in the text probably referred to prejudices and persecution experienced at the hands of their friends and non-Christian neighbors. Imagine what that must have been like…being teased for your faith, or worse…feeling like an outsider in your own hometown. Even today, as Catholics, we worry about the fate of our Church and why there are dwindling numbers. Wherever and whenever the church suffers in any way, whether that is through serious persecution, dwindling numbers, or apathy, we are to view it as discipline. We are disciplined as a church. This discipline is a sign of God’s love of the church. One cannot help but recall St. Theresa’s complaint: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few.”). What obstacles do you find in practicing your faith? How are these obstacles like discipline?
The theology of Hebrews asserts that suffering is to be seen as necessary for growth, not punishment for wrongdoing. Consider exercising, or writing a paper. It is hard work, but good work! Harold Kushner in When Bad Things Happen to Good People says, “Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us. They do not happen for any good reason, which would cause us to accept them willingly. But we can give them a meaning. The question we should be asking is not, ‘Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?’ That is really an unanswerable, pointless question. A better question would be, ‘Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?’ ( p. 136).
Gospel: Luke 13:22-30
From Wm. Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 188-189. “Keep on striving to enter…” the word striving is the root word for the English word agony. We must never be complacent; our struggle to follow Jesus is part of an intense encounter. There is no finality for the Christian; no resting on one’s self-righteous laurels. A Christian way is like climbing up a mountain towards a peak which will never be reached in this world…
We cannot live on borrowed goodness – or on who we know, not even if it is ‘rubbing elbows with Jesus.’ Jesus does not want casual acquaintances; he wants disciples. Think about your own friends and how some are closer than others. Sometimes it is hard when you want to be closer to someone than you are, but maybe the other doesn’t want that. Or even people you may always just say hi to but you still don’t remember what their names are! Jesus wants us to strive to be closer than close to him. He always knows our name and knows us intimately. We must respond to his offer.
From St. Anselm, “Thoughts from the Early Church, “ http://liturgy.slu.edu: The kingdom of heaven is God’s gift to us – but he will not give it to anyone who lacks love. Love is the only thing asked for – without it he cannot give it. Love God and other people as you should and then you will deserve what you desire. But you cannot have this love unless you empty your heart of other loves: riches, power, pleasure, honor, and praise. Hate locks doors; only love can open them…
From Hungry, and You Fed Me, p. 215: “Jesus doesn’t seem to have much patience with the question [of who will be saved]…it’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘Just aim for the narrow gate. Assume that you’re all outsiders and try the best that you can. Don’t try to assess who is in and who is out. Don’t even waste your time on all that because you’re not going to be able to figure it out. The last will be first and the first will be last.’ What if we really led our lives in this manner? What if we met each person and had no preconceived notions about who they were, but listened to their stories and understood their human messiness? What if we had a bit of humility and assumed the position of outcasts who are just trying the best that we can?…if we set aside all of the ways in which we determine who is in and who is out, if we begin to relate to one another as mysteries…we would have a very different sort of faith.”
Paul continues to preach unity among the Philippians. There must have been something troubling this community for him to worry. Raymond Brown (Introduction to the New Testament, p. 487-488) points to 3 different troubles:
- Later on in Chapter 4, we will see that there is internal dissension among 2 female members of the community, Euodia and Syntyche. We don’t know the nitty gritty, but it sounds like a difference of opinion and perhaps a wanting to be right. Paul wants everyone to keep their eye on the bigger picture…following Christ and spreading the Gospel! Can you think of times when you had a difference of opinion and it prevented you from being your own authentic self, or got in the way of the bigger picture?
- At the end of chapter 1, Paul mentions opponents. Philippi is a diverse community with people praying to all kinds of gods. Why do these Christians think they know better? There is no way to prove who is the “right god”. Worrying about this only weakens them. Paul sees there is strength in numbers. He wants them to hold on to each other in the face of adversity. When have you worried about various tensions in your life, perhaps giving too much attention to things that weren’t good for you? Did it help to go to people you care about to stay on track?
- Another threat were Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision. For Paul, hanging on to this Jewish law for the New Way was not the answer. He is the voice for the Gentiles. Don’t we all get stuck in doing things the way they have always been done? It is especially hard when it is something so personal and heartfelt. Our example is Jesus.
In 2:6-11, we see one of the earliest indications of an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ. Jesus is in the “form of God”, “in human likeness” and “God greatly exalted him”. Theologians debate whether Paul was truly speaking of preexistence, that Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man of Jesus on earth. This would not be resolved until the councils of Nicea (325AD) and Chalcedon (451AD). This passage is often called the “Christ Hymn” because of how poetic it is. It was probably used as a creed or response in early worship, or maybe it was sung. Maybe Paul wrote this piece himself or maybe he was quoting something the Philippians would have been familiar with (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 349-351.
Reflect on some of the other phrases in the hymn…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. For the words to be closer to the original Greek, it would be translated as, “Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God, something to be snatched at.” Jesus didn’t have to snatch his equality with God because it was his right, his being. He didn’t hold it tightly either, keeping it for himself. He offered it freely to ALL(Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 36). This gift of beautiful life is a constant letting go. We can’t hold on too tightly. We are meant to give ourselves away, like Jesus did. Not to be doormats, or be used by others…it is conscious choice. We find the gift of who we are within ourselves and be that fully, opening ourselves with that intentionality. We find that the gift comes back to us in abundance! We “pour out as a libation”, but it only makes more room for God to fill us.
Why must we work out our salvation with “fear and trembling”? Barclay describes these words as coming from a sense of our own creatureliness and powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly. It is meant to drive us to SEEK God, not hide from God. The underlying feeling is a knowing that God is there to help us, that we want to please God. Salvation is a free gift from God, but we must have eyes to see it and hands to work toward it. It is God that works in us the desire to be saved. Any gift has to be received (p. 41-42).