FROM A READING FOR AUGUST 22, 21ST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

'Have you forgotten the encouraging words which God speaks to you as His children?' Hebrews 12:5

Anyone with a narrow view of discipline will have a hard time appreciating today's readings.

Our Hebrews author provides us with a unique twist on the term when he writes (Heb 12:5-7,11-13), "Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every child he acknowledges."

According to its dictionary definition, discipline is "training that corrects, molds or perfects." Those who listen to our first and second readings will note that biblical discipline fits the definition.

Our sacred authors are certainly trying to correct, mold and perfect readers - but in a way most people aren't accustomed to.

In their recent book, "The Invisible Gorilla," psychologists Chris Chabris and Dan Simmons point out a disturbing fact: In any given situation, we humans can only depend on seeing the things on which we're actually focusing our eyes.

Unnoticed details
Though things on which we're not focusing often pass through our field of vision, we almost never notice them. (The book's title refers to a famous experiment the authors conducted. They asked people to count the number of passes a basketball team made during a game - during which a girl in a gorilla suit walked the length of the court, even weaving between players. Most pass-counters never saw the gorilla!)

The authors conclude there's little we can do to improve our ability to notice the "unexpected." We can only admit that no one ever sees everything.

Without having read Chabris and Simmons' book, our sacred authors agree with their thesis. One of our biblical writers' goals is to train readers to focus on things invisible to many others.

Both Third-Isaiah (Isaiah 66:18-21) and Luke (13:22-30) focus on an aspect of God's actions most "religious folk" rarely notice: God is constantly saving and working with the very people we presume are beyond such actions.

Gentiles included
The prophet's reference is a bit more esoteric than the evangelist's. When Third-Isaiah writes during the last years of the 6th century BCE, only Jewish men from the tribe of Levi can act as priests and Levites in the Jerusalem temple.

Yet, as a Jerome Biblical Commentary article notes, Third-Isaiah "ends with a most radical announcement. Gentiles [will] take their place in the priesthood." As the prophet puts it, "Some of these [Gentiles] I will take as priests and Levites, says Yahweh."

Almost no one in Third-Isaiah's audience focused on that aspect of Yahweh's actions. As good Jews, they were basically interested in how Yahweh related to Jews.

Luke's Jesus is clearer: "There will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you [Jews] see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.

"People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God....Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

It's easy to brush off such an unexpected development by saying, "It all depends on how you look at it." Yet we can never forget that God and our sacred authors are constantly disciplining us to look at it from their focus, not ours.