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Twenty-First Sunday of the Year

To Live is to Move

Why does the Church get us to listen to the Bible at Mass week by week? Why do we have to hear about Put and Lud and Moshech, which were marginal places even in Old Testament times, and certainly don't make the headlines - or even footnotes - in our times?

Is the Bible simply an old book which is interesting and instructive to those who are interested in ancient history? The church would not be commending it to us if it were just that: it's our belief that God speaks to us now through the Bible, in which we hear his Word. So if what the prophets said thousands of years ago challenged the people of their time, it continues to challenge us today; if Jesus divided people in his day by what he said, offending some and cheering others, we need to check out whether what he says offends us or cheers us now.

But first, let's look at the beginning of the gospel for today: 'Through towns and villages Jesus went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem.' Luke's Gospel and Luke's other book, the Acts of the Apostles, are full of the idea of journeying. Jesus doesn't just sit in one place and wait for people to come and listen to his teaching: he himself is moving forward in obedience to his destiny; those who want to hear him must travel with him, and for us that means being willing to move, to be changed, to learn new things.

We can never say of the Gospel, 'I've got it.' If you say that, you haven't got it. We dare not be stuck in complacency; nor need we be stuck in self-despising; neither of those attitudes helps us to hear the Gospel.

The whole Bible is about movement - away from Egypt, to the Promised Land, away into exile, back to the promised land; and not only do God's chosen people get moved: the people of all these foreign places like Put and Lud and Moshech are invited to move, to come to Jerusalem, the place of God's glory. (They are even promised a chance to minister in God's sanctuary, which is a pretty shocking idea to the purists). To live is to move - away from our smaller world into God's bigger world. The fact that we are known as God's people doesn't mean that God isn't interested in other people. God may possess us; we don't possess God.

So Jesus challenged his hearers not to imagine that just because they had had contact with God through the scriptures read in the synagogue, or had been visited by Jesus as he went round preaching, they were assured of a place in the kingdom: the question was, had they responded to God, and desired a place in the kingdom, like hungry and needy people? Had they desired him, like the people from east and west and north and south, the outsiders who would be welcomed into the feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob simply because they wanted to be there?

We can gain admission to the heavenly banquet on one condition: if we are hungry to be there. Those who think they have a right to be there will get a shock; they have not tried their best to enter by the narrow door, which paradoxically welcomes countless unexpected guests through it; it is the door of humility, of need, of poverty in spirit. Those who have had a good, godly upbringing may think that that is all they require; somehow they're already in the club, and they needn't bother to apply. But the fact is that we can only come into God's presence if we come as needy people who know we have nothing to offer but everything to receive.

Jesus scandalised the well brought-up by showing that God welcomes the badly brought-up too; each has the same way into the heavenly feast: hunger.

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