Grace to you!
If we could enjoy the liberty of envisioning the past and bringing it to the present, imagine being one of the early disciples of Jesus Christ, those who were born and grew in a culture that prides itself as the only chosen of God, God's special people, the Israelites. All their lives they believed that salvation was only for the Jews.
Many of their prominent rabbis taught them about their exclusive patrimony to the Messiah; and the Talmud, the Mishnah and the Midrash – their written and interpretative traditions, in some ways or another, reinforced that belief. For them, God’s salvation was not for the gentiles. It was for the Jews. Others were outside the radius of divine redemption.
Imagine being like the apostles who were Jews, members of the inner circle, who were called by Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus reveals that God's saving mission wasn't simply about a particular nation; it was for all. “All nations.” This must be shocking.
The Messiah they had hope for and believed they had found came with a revolutionary message, the message that salvation is for all, Jews and gentiles alike. How would that discovery shape your understanding of the faith? If you were one of them, how would you respond to that revolutionary message?
At first, many of the disciples were reluctant to embrace that message, but slowly they did. The first missionaries to go outside of Israel to preach the Good News were driven by persecution. Philip, the deacon, was one of them who preached to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Paul was a remarkable trailblazer, the apostle to the Gentiles; then Peter, who preached in the house of Cornelius (Acts of the Apostles 10), etc.
The common theme about their innovation was that it was clear to them that with God, “there is no favoritism.” For all peoples of every nation, tribe and tongue are called to the salvation in Christ. They learned the lesson from the Messiah himself and it came alive after the Pentecost.
It is God's plan right from the time of the Old Testament that all would see God's glory, first the Jews and then the rest of the world. “They shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord…” (Isaiah 66:19-20).
Regarding those invited to God’s salvation, Jesus states: "All 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" (Luke 13:29).
The invitation to this feast isn't by birth, by nationality or by race; it's by committed choice for the Lord and His ways, walking through the narrow gate, the Jesus way. It’s by identifying with the Christ-event, through a committed choice for Him, that we can be part of this salvation package revealed fully in Christ.
If all cultures, all peoples are invited, it also means that no culture is outside the radius of divine invitation or divine intervention. As Pope Paul VI stated, every strata of human culture is the target of the ministry of evangelization, and we are to bring the Good News of Christ to all cultures, all humanity, “transforming it from within and making it new” (see Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18).
Our mission, therefore, is to extend that invitation to all peoples no matter who they are and where they come from, irrespective of their background or their past. Scripture says, “Go out to all the world and tell the Good News” (Mark 16:15).
I repeat, as I have hinted in the past, a cultural religion is a religion that limits God's universal call to a particular culture. It’s a human religion, and runs the risk of fashioning its own god after its own image and likeness. Ours is Christ in cultures, not culture in Christ. It’s this Christ that shatters all fetters of evil in any human society, nurturing its peoples to see God’s glory. It’s culture invigorated by Christ. Hence it’s our joy to tell the story to all peoples.
I pray with Saint Paul that we all, with unveiled face, may behold the glory of the Lord, “changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (see 2 Corinthians 3:18).
As Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen joked, there will be three surprises in heaven: “First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expected who will not be there. And - even relying on God’s mercy - the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there.”
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.