The Gospel of today brings to a close the period of preparation for the second coming of the Lord. From tomorrow onwards the Gospels will usher in the story of the birth of Jesus. To bring the first period of Advent to a close, the Church chooses today’s Gospel as a last ditch effort for those who have still not taken up the initial message to repent and be ready; a message that John the Baptist proclaimed to herald the arrival of the Messiah.
John was singular in his calling; repentance was a pre-requisite in order to truly welcome the Kingdom of God that was be announced by Jesus the Messiah. Yet even though this prophet was widely accepted by the people (verse 26) his message, and by extension the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah, was also rejected by the ‘religious authority’. (Verse 23)
Perhaps what was at play was a power struggle. The religious ‘authorities’ were unwilling to let go the stranglehold they held over religion and the people for 400 years. When the message of the Messiah was announced by John, they rejected it even though simpler folk recognised this message and welcomed Jesus the Messiah.
In response to Jesus’ question, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” their first response is in fact an admission of who John was, hence an ipso facto acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. They said, “If we say his baptism was from heaven then he will say to us, why did you not believe him (John) and by extension why did you not accept me (Jesus)? Had the religious authorities truly believed that John was a fraud their response would have be the usual uproar but they were silent. Hence their answer was nothing short of damage control. They respond by saying. “We do not know.”
Searching for a Saviour yet seeking Santa Claus! – Third Sunday of Advent – MT 11:2-11
My disappointments have always been linked to my expectations. I have envisioned what a person should be or how an event should unfold or what a parcel should contain; then to my horror the images in my head don’t match the reality at my doorstep. (Amazon deliveries included). While the disappointment is purely the result of the imagery I created in my head, there lies the possibility of a scenario created for me by someone else, which does not match the reality.
Last week’s Gospel saw our protagonist, John the Baptist, presenting us with the coming Messiah as some kind of hurricane in a human body. He was to Baptize not with water but with fire and bring about judgement with a vengeance. Lots of fire and brimstone was predicted.
This week’s Gospel has John’s very prophecy leaving him in doubt; for nothing that John hears from his prison cell in Herod’s fortified hilltop palace of Machaerus seems to match what he himself predicted in the wilderness. The voice of the prophet did not match the prophecy; there is talk of a Messiah but no drama surrounding him. So John sends his disciples to ask if Jesus was really the Christ.
To us who read the scriptures, the reply of Jesus would have been better served with a yes or a no. Jesus rather chooses to quote the prophet Isaiah whose description of the Messiah to come is one enunciated in verse five of today’s Gospel. “The blind will see, the lame will walk, lepers will be cleansed, the deaf shall hear, the dead will be raised and the poor have good news brought to them. (See similar texts in Isaiah 26:19, 29:18-19, 35:5-6. 61:1)
To the disciples of John who knew the scriptures relating to the prophecy of the Messiah, this was all they needed to hear. The words of Jesus were a perfect confirmation of what Isaiah had prophesised without the expectant drama.
Divine Amnesia – Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent – Isaiah 40:1-11
Scholars divide the book of Isaiah into three parts; from Chapters 1-30, 40-55 and 56-66. The first part of the book deals with the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians and ends with a narrative in chapter 39.
King Hezekiah in defiance of Gods instructions, hosts envoys from Babylon and the prophet Isaiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem as divine punishment. While chapter 39 does not explicitly mention the details of the exile its consequences are assumed in chapter 40. It is as if the sacred writer found this memory so painful to talk about that he simply reduced the most significant national tragedy in the history of Israel to a mere eight verses.
With one step into Chapter 40 a new power, Persia, under King Cyrus has now succeeded Babylon and just like that comfort and pardon are offered to the people of Israel. The question is, are the people of Israel truly deserving of a mere 70 year exile in return for generations of infidelity? They who made a sacred covenant with God were guilty of more than just a flirtatious relationship with pagan gods. The prophet Hosea had long accused the people of Israel of ‘prostituting them selves’ at the cross roads to every other god and faith.
Yet chapter 40:1 opens with the double exhortation from Yahweh, “comfort, comfort”! Chapter 40 is set in a heavenly court in which Yahweh now insists and commands that his people be comforted. Even though it would be right for God to continue to admonish his people, he asks that they be spoken to ‘tenderly’, and they be won over tenderly. It is compassion not condemnation that is brought into play.
Prayer- are you asking or basking? – Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time –LK 18:9-14
What is the attitude we should have before God in prayer? Luke gives us another account of two people praying in 18:9-14. Who is he telling this parable to? To those who trusted in themselves, to those who were righteous and to those who regarded others with contempt.
So Jesus is not only narrating this parable about ‘a Pharisee’, he is narrating this to the present day audience especially when we behave like Pharisees. Jesus is talking to ALL who fall in the above categories. So don’t be fooled by the example of the Pharisee and dismiss this as situational example lost in history.
Jesus is talking about the Pharisee in all of us (Church people). Yet it is amazing that he even used a tax collector and a Pharisee in the same story for the Jews could not even imagine the two to be mentioned in the same breath. There was no doubt in the mind of the Jew that the Pharisee would be the hero of the narrative.
In Luke 5:32 Jesus said I have come not for the righteous. So it is clear that Jesus does not have some ‘gold star standard’ for those He has come or not come for. He has come to save all so all can petition him in prayer.
What’s common between the tax collector and the Pharisee in the parable?
Both went to pray
Both went to temple (the same place)
Both are sinners( even though the Pharisee things otherwise)
Both address God
What’s different about them?
One was an honest sinner. He looks to heaven, beats his breast and acknowledges the sin
The other was a dishonest sinner – The Pharisee is not praying to God he is actually listing his religious achievements. Who is the centre of his prayer? It is himself! He is the object of his own worship. Four times in the parable he says “I”.
When my dear friend Celine Zuzarte passed away on June 19th, 2016 I was heartbroken. On my Facebook message I wrote that day, “Move over angels in heaven, Sheila, (that’s what we called her) now joins you. Treat her well, she loved me on earth.
After the funeral ceremony, her family gave me a bag full of religious items. In it was a Bible which she had purchased on the 24th of July 2002 which was the second year of my priestly ministry in St Michael’s. Mahim. Perhaps unknowingly, the family passed on the most precious possession of Sheila. For me, this gift became a transforming moment in my life for I began to fall in love with the scriptures which prompted me to write this daily blog, pottypadre.com
This Bible has now become my most valued possession. I believe it was Sheila’s gift to me from heaven. So attached have I been to the Word of God that I have willed that when I die, the Bible be placed in my hand over the more traditional choice of a chalice( a symbol of priestly ministry). I would like this curious, non-conformist request to elicit questions, why a Bible over a chalice?
We are nourished by Jesus our Lord and Saviour by His body and blood AND by His word. But I have come to bemoan the fact that Word of God has not been given its fair share of importance in the Eucharistic service. This ‘fair share’ has not been denied by the Catholic Church, for in the mind and the heart of the Church both are given due importance; it has been denied its due importance by the fact that it is not being BROKEN (like the body of Christ is) for our nourishment as it should.
Fr. Warner D'Souza is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Bombay. He has served in the parishes of St Michael's, Mahim, St Paul's, Dadar East, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bandra and at present is the priest in charge of St Jude Church, Malad East. He is also the Director of the Archdiocesan Heritage Museum and is the co-ordinator of the Committee for the Promotion and Preservation of the Artistic and Historic Patrimony of the Church.