As surprising as it may seem, one of the most unsettling of the divine characteristics is God’s universal concern for the people of the world. The very earliest traditions of Israel reveal the concept of a patron God who led a chosen people, protected them and blessed them with peace and prosperity. But this God was considered the special patron of Israel, not of the entire world. The other nations had their own gods to care for them. Gradually, as ancient Israel’s concept of God developed and expanded, the universal scope of God’s love and care became clear. They came to see that God is concerned with the happiness and salvation of all. Today’s readings underscore this universal concern.
This divine characteristic is unsettling to some because it seems to challenge the concept of a “chosen people.” After all, what is the point of being chosen, if you cannot boast of God’s special care? The reading from Isaiah answers this question. It states that the “chosen” have been called so that they might be sent “to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.” This means that the chosen people have been chosen, not merely for their own sake, but for the sake of others.
The Gospel reveals a slightly different perspective on the notion of being chosen. Its focus is on entrance into the kingdom of God. Some of the people at the time of Jesus seem to have presumed that since they belonged to the chosen people, they would automatically have access to the long-awaited kingdom of God. This kingdom was understood as a promised realm that brought to fulfillment all their religious hopes and dreams. Jesus quickly alters their presumption. He insists that if they have not been faithful to their call as chosen people, they will be denied entrance. And who will occupy the places they thought would be theirs? Outsiders.
These two passages provide challenges for us as well. Our baptism conferred on us the responsibility of witnessing to the entire world the glory of God. People of every religious faith should be able to recognize God’s goodness in the way we live our lives and interact with them. This is particularly important today, when there is such animosity among people of differing faiths. This interfaith challenge may well be the narrow gate through which we must pass, if we hope to sit at the table in God’s kingdom.