The Readings for the 20th Sunday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.Luke 13:24
THIS PAST SUNDAY’S Readings presented an interesting reading of some bad things: The Babylonian Exile, predicted in Isaiah, is imaged as both punishment and plan. Paul points out that God only punishes sons – and that for a reason. At least from my Protestant past, I’m used to reading the Exile as a bad thing. But after my Bible classes and reading God and His Image I’m trying really heard to stick with the truth that, for God, there is no Plan B. Nothing God does is reactive.
Isaiah says God’s going to punish Israel for breaking the covenant. He’s sending them away into exile. However read the text closer: this is still Plan A.
“I will send fugitives to the nations (literally, Gentiles. Hebrew: Goyim) that have never seen my glory.”
Israel is being sent out as Apostles not as victims of punishment.
“and they shall proclaim my glory among the goyim”
And they shall come as an offering to God – and God will even appoint some of them as Priests and Levites.
Israel’s exile from the land is part of the plan of salvation for the world.
Israel’s punishment for idolatry is part of God’s loving action in the world. It’s punishment – but as St Paul notes in Hebrews, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Israel proclaiming God’s glory among the Gentiles is a theme in other books of the Bible as well. Sirach 36:4-5 says, “As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory. Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you.” In the Exile the jews were not only taken to Babylon: some ran away to avoid captivity. There are communities of Jews living as far away as what is now Lyons and Central Asia.
The purpose is neither simply punishment nor is it replacement. Rather this is part of the grafting in of the Gentiles. Israel, through the exile, is bringing the narrow gate to the gentiles: showing the nations the moral law of God, not by preaching but by living moral lives among them. They were winning proselytes at the time of the Maccabees, When, after Pentecost, the Apostles are sent out to proclaim the Gospel, they will go to these far-flung communities of the Diaspora. They will find Jews as well as righteous Gentiles there ready for faith in Messiah, ready for full participation in the New Covenant.