When we think about discipline, we often conjure up thoughts of being restricted from doing or experiencing things we enjoy.

Therefore, we're not really excited by the second reading on Sunday (Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13): "Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by Him."

It sounds like just one more limit on our freedom.

Jesus' mission

Perhaps we've forgotten what the historical Jesus was all about. It's easy to forget that He didn't spend the precious few months of His public ministry founding a new religious institution.

Those who paused long enough to listen to this itinerant preacher's message discovered He was interested not in providing them with new information to store in their minds, but in changing the way their minds processed the information they had already stored and were continuing to receive.

Jesus was driven to help change the way people looked at reality so that they would see aspects and dimensions of the situations, things and people around them that they'd never before noticed. Only when they began to do this would they begin to experience God's working in their lives.

Expanding our minds is one of the most difficult things we'll ever do. Over the years, we've reached a plateau in our mental development. We're comfortable reflecting on our experiences from a particular perspective. We've developed certain categories into which we place (or squeeze) those who cross our paths.

Long ago, we squelched the wonder and amazement that is a such an essential part of a child's approach to reality. As adults, we often know the answer before we've even heard the question.

But Jesus was in the "mind-expanding" business. We know from His advice to His followers that He didn't stick around long when people refused to expand. He spent most of His time evangelizing those willing to take that all important, expansive step.

In Sunday's Gospel, for example (Luke 13:22-30), Jesus fields a closed-minded question and gives an open-minded response: "Someone asked him, 'Lord, will only a few people be saved?'" He instinctively informs the person, "You're asking the wrong question. How does the number of people saved affect your own salvation?"

Jesus then explains part of what it means "to enter through the narrow gate." The concept doesn't revolve around being a member of an "'in' group." Those who don't even share our religious affiliation are just as (often more) likely to join in that great heavenly banquet as we are.

Isaiah delivered a similar message 500 years before Jesus (Isaiah 66:18-21). Instead of viewing the two Jewish exiles as punishments from Yahweh, the prophet is convinced they provided a way to introduce Gentiles to faith in Yahweh.

Not only will these non-Jewish believers join their Jewish brothers and sisters in rebuilding Jerusalem, but God will also reward them by taking some of them as priests and Levites -- professions reserved for just one family within one tribe of Israel -- something unheard of among Jews.

Opening minds

Through the centuries, we've discovered that the author of Hebrews is correct: The open-minded discipline of Jesus often "seems a cause not for joy, but for pain."

Those who develop and practice Jesus' open-mindedness will always suffer as He suffered. Many of those we encounter in our daily lives have no idea how to deal with such a unique frame of mind. Often, their only recourse is to try to annihilate it -- or the person possessing it.

But the author encourages us to persevere in practicing this discipline. It alone "brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it."

We can never forget that the righteous scriptural person is the one doing what God wants her or him to do.

(8/23/07)