August 19, 2010

Gather Us In

by Tobias Winright
Scripture Reflection (Catholic Lectionary): Is 66: 18-21; Ps 117; Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 ; Lk 13:22-30

The processional hymn for my wedding eight years ago was “Gather Us In,” written by Saint Louis Jesuit Marty Haugen. It’s always been a favorite for my wife and me. “Gather us in, the lost and forsaken; gather us in, the blind and the lame.”

E pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) originally was a central theme of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament. According to scholar Gerhard Lohfink, the “gathering” of the scattered is a key biblical term for the event of salvation. As Depaul University theologian William T. Cavanaugh puts it, “Salvation in the Old Testament is not about individuals trying to gain admittance to a place called heaven after death; it is about gathering people in communion, thereby restoring the good creation that sin and violence have torn apart…, [and the] theme of gathering does not change in the New Testament; the only change is that the promises of the Old Testament are said to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.”

Hence, Isaiah’s vision of a new age wherein God comes “to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them.” Just as God will “create new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17), so too shall there be a new people. Likewise, Psalm 117 calls on “all you nations” to praise the LORD for God’s hesed, or steadfast love, which is supposed to be manifested by the people as neighbor love. The epistle to the Hebrews refers to how God is “the Father of spirits,” which means God is the source of all humankind’s spiritual being.

Being part of a community, whether of the people of Israel or the people known as Christ’s body, the church, is a journey, or a process, though. It involves practice and discipline, as the author of Hebrews emphasizes, employing the verb gymnazo (“gymnastic”) in verse 11 for our “working out” so as to grow in the likeness of Christ. Such a relationship is not cheap or easy; it involves discipleship, so as to share, or participate, in God’s holiness. This is why Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”

In Luke’s gospel, the invitation to participate in this new community is universal; however, not everyone who thinks they’re “in” really is. The owner of the house will say, “I do not know where you come from.” Instead, “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” Those who are admitted through the door to the ultimate banquet will include many who are not, as well as some who are, expected. The common thread running throughout these readings is that God's salvation essentially involves hospitality, compassion, and justice for all peoples--including, unexpectedly, those who are “other.”

As the hymn I mention above puts it, “Give us to drink the wine of compassion; give us to eat the bread that is you; nourish us well and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true.”


Sil Galvan said...

Actually, Marty Haugen wasn't one of the St. Louis Jesuits and, as I recall, isn't even Catholic (Lutheran perhaps??). But having attended several workshops with him, he has a deep spirituality and, as you say, has written many wonderful songs for our worship including Gather Us In. FWIW!!

Tobias Winright said...

Sil: You are correct. Haugen was raised Lutheran and is now UCC--but his musical style and the timing of his composing during the 1980s coincided with--and perhaps was influenced by--the so called Saint Louis Jesuits (I'm actually friends/colleagues with John--Jack--Foley here).