The gathering together of all peoples of the world at Zion at the beginning of the messianic age is a frequent picture of the Isaianic and other Old Testament prophecies.
Christian faith sees the fulfillment of these prophecies partly in the bringing of people from all nations into the catholic Church, and partly in the future coming of the Son of man to gather all the nations of the world into his kingdom.
John Mason Neale’s translation of an early Eastern Orthodox hymn expresses this typology and this faith:
Rise, Sion, rise, and looking forth
behold thy children round thee!
From east and west, from south and north,
thy scattered sons have found thee:
And in thy bosom Christ adore
For ever and for ever more.
This psalm, which calls upon all nations to praise the name of Yhwh, is cited by St. Paul (Romans 15:11) in a catena of Old Testament texts to illustrate the universal scope of God’s redemptive purpose in Christ.
It is, therefore, an appropriate response to the Old Testament reading, with its picture of the movement of all peoples to Zion.
At first sight this reading is divergent in theme from the other readings of this Sunday. Elsewhere the theme is the universality of the gospel; here it is the divine disciplining of the faithful.
Hebrews alternates between ethical exhortation and doctrinal-exegetical exposition. The exposition, which reaches it culmination in the long section on the high-priestly office of Christ (Heb 7:1-10:18), is intended to undergird the exhortation. This exhortation reflects the situation of the author’s readers.
They have been Christian for a long time and are yielding to discouragement and frustration. The “discipline” to which they are being subjected is probably not acute persecution but the petty pinpricks of their non-Christian neighbors.
This passage, which culminates in the great proclamation that many will come from east and west and take their place in the kingdom of God, begins somewhat unpromisingly with the assertion (in response to the question whether many or only a few will be saved) that one can only enter that kingdom by a narrow door.
The universalism of the Christian gospel is no easygoing thing. It is intended for all but is offered through Christ alone. The universality goes hand in hand with the “scandal of particularity.”
The messianic banquet is for those who are prepared to “eat the flesh” of the Messiah and to “drink his blood.”