FROM A READING FOR AUGUST 21, 21ST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues, and they shall come and see my glory...' -- Isaiah 66:18

Most of us don't like to hear the word "discipline," especially when it's applied to us. We presume it's geared to take away our freedom and, in the long run, always comes with some sort of punishment.

Yet, a typical dictionary definition of the term says it's simply the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior. So, when the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes about the "discipline of the Lord" (Heb 12:5-7,11-13), he's simply talking about the unique rules and behavior patterns the risen Jesus expects us to obey.

Growing up Catholic, I methodically learned all the do's and don'ts my catechism listed. But being a typical, concrete-thinking child, I concentrated on the don'ts -- especially since they were hooked up to the fiery punishments of purgatory and hell that scared the bejeebers out of me.

Unlike the dos, the don'ts were hard to forget. Though the Hebrews author reminds us that "whom the Lord loves, He disciplines," not only didn't I feel much love coming out of the pages of my catechism, I secretly envied my Protestant friends who didn't seem to be restrained or burdened by any fear of committing mortal sins.

Expanding behavior
Yet, listening to Sunday's first and third readings (Isaiah 66:18-21; Luke 13:22-30), it's clear that the discipline to which both sacred authors refer doesn't restrict our behavior, it expands it.

Active shortly after Israel's sixth-century-BCE Babylonian captivity, Third-Isaiah is concerned not only with encouraging the recently-freed Jews to return to the Promised Land, he wants them to come back to their ancestral home with a new mentality toward Gentiles.

No longer are they to regard them simply as "non-Jews," people incapable of having a meaningful relationship with Yahweh. God's now including these foreigners in God's plan of salvation. Some will even be priests and Levites -- individuals who were granted their special ministry and privileges by birth.

No one went to the seminary to become a priest or Levite; they were born that way. Yet, now Yahweh's saying that some Gentiles are by nature just as important as some Jews.

Heretic!
I'm certain a number of pious Jews would have petitioned to have Third-Isaiah declared a heretic. Such openness certainly wasn't the divine discipline they'd learned and followed as children. The prophet was now demanding they expand their behavior to now be open to Yahweh working with all people, not just the Chosen People.

Because of our emphasis on the don'ts of our faith, it's easy to overlook the fact that the historical Jesus demanded similar discipline from His followers.

Sunday's Gospel leaves us little wiggle room: "There will be wailing and grinding of teeth," Jesus warns, "when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out." The "saved" will include people we presumed were nowhere near being listed in that category.

Neither belonging to the "true Church," saying the right prayers or knowing all the rules and regulations will save us. Our only hope is to imitate the mentality of Jesus.

"People will come from the east and the west," Luke's Jesus insists, "and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God." His salvation rule of thumb can be easily summarized: "Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

Ironically, the "narrow gate" for entering God's kingdom among us revolves around our developing a very broad mind.