In the first reading, it has been about 40 years since the armies of Babylon captured, destroyed and burned Jerusalem. The Prophet Isaiah is speaking to people who have lived their life in exile with only the stories of the Jerusalem-that-used-to-be as solace. A people that are wondering if they will ever be saved from exile. Will God rescue them as He did when he led the people out of exile and slavery in Egypt those many years ago?
But Isaiah holds up for them a new vision – not just that they will return from exile, but they will rebuild Jerusalem. Then they will go out into the far and distant lands and proclaim what God has done for them. Go out to that larger family living in their own exile, a family undone by the Tower of Babel, by the sins of family members, and by the worship of false idols and gods – that is the family that will be restored. People will be brought back together from all corners of the world to form one family. People from every nation; foreigners and immigrants. All of these people who were once seen as the “others,” all will come processing to Jerusalem to God’s holy mountain to worship in the great Temple—the slaves and the free; the warriors and the weak; the wealthy and the slaves, “on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries.” It is the great message from the last chapter of Isaiah: that God’s covenant, God’s promise to love, protect, and save is not just for a few but for all.
What an amazing revelation from God. It is the same message from St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy: that God “wills everyone to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). The underlying Greek work can more commonly be translated as “wish, desire, hope” – God desires everyone to be saved!
Yet, someone in the gospels asks question: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” One wonders what was being asked.
Maybe the questioner is worried about the state of the world and can only see a few faithful people?
Or worried about family members gone astray?
It could be that he or she is worried about all the people who are “the others.” People with wrong-headed views on birth control, divorce and remarriage, and LGBTQ issues. People that voted wrongly in the elections. People who “don’t get it.” Will they be saved?
Maybe the question is whether only a few people “like me” will be saved. We the minority who still come to church. We all come here every Sunday – well most Sundays – OK, OK we get here when we can. We say to ourselves, “I am a good Catholic. I go to Mass and receive communion. I listen to the Word of God. I listen to the homily. OK, OK, I mostly listen to the homily. I volunteer. I try to be good. I pray. I go to confession. I do things. Isn’t that striving enough?” Maybe we do those things and still we hear “I do not know where you are from.”
Maybe the question is “will I be saved?” Am I on the right track? What do I have to do?”
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Tell us what has to be done, let us know we are on the right track. Let us know we are doing the right things. Give us the checklist of things to do to get to heaven.
In this past Monday’s gospel, a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He tells Jesus he has kept all the commandments and asks Jesus, “What do I still lack?” What’s left on the checklist?
Who will be saved? It has been a theme of the gospels all week. Everyone asking from a different perspective, for different reasons, but all asking.
I wish I had a checklist for you. I really do.
But here is what I know. (1) that God desires that all be saved, (2) God desires that the family of God be restored and (3) each one of us has been graced and gifted to fulfill God’s desires for ourselves, for our families, communities, and this whole world of people asking the same questions.
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
And looking at the restored family of God, those fulfilling God’s desires, those who are saved – looking at them, maybe God’s response is “How many others are here because of you?”
As we stand at the threshold of the narrow gate and look across it, will we recognize the faces of those who are there because of us, or will we see just strangers?
Grace and gifted. Now we just need to get going to help fulfill God’s desires.