||Ps 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7,8-9
Advent: preparing for what’s coming
Happy new year! This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the start of a new liturgical year and a new season. In this new liturgical year, the Sunday gospel readings change from Luke’s gospel to Matthew’s gospel. In this new liturgical season, the season color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple. As we begin Advent, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes his vision of God’s realized kingdom. All nations worship God; God instructs and justly judges everyone. Isaiah tells us that we will “beat our swords into plowshares” only when God leads all nations. Without God, universal peace remains a human vision. The coming messiah offers a chance for us to achieve Isaiah’s vision. The reading closes with a prayer of hope and preparation: “Come, let us walk in the Lord’s light.”
In the second reading, Paul writes to the Roman ekklesia, urging them to “wake” and prepare for Jesus’ return. Quoting a baptismal hymn, Paul tells the Romans to “throw off the works of darkness” and to prepare for the Lord’s return by “putting on Christ” and dressing in “the armor of light.”
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to prepare for the son of man’s return. Jesus gives three warnings about preparedness:
- The days of Noah: In Noah’s time, only a few people were aware of the coming destruction; they didn’t know until the flood came and carried them away. Jesus warns his disciples: it will be the same when the son of man returns–many will be caught unaware.
- The everyday now: Jesus gives real scenes from daily life to emphasize the suddenness of the son of man’s return. People will be living workaday lives and in an instant everything will change.
- The unready homeowner: Jesus tells a final story about an unpredictable event: a robbery. The homeowner’s only defense against the thief is watchfulness.
Jesus concludes with two warnings to his disciples: Stay awake (v 42) and be ready (v 44)! In the final weeks of Ordinary time, Jesus warned his disciples to watch for the signs of the end-times. In Advent, Jesus tells his disciples rather than trying to predict the future, they should prepare for it.
The Advent readings ask RCIA participants and the whole believing community: are we ready for what’s coming? Isaiah prays for God to intervene and bring a peaceable kingdom. Paul tells us to awake to our coming salvation. Jesus warns us to be ready because the son of man can return at any moment. Advent is our preparation for Isaiah’s prayer fulfilled: God breaks into human history through Jesus’ Incarnation. Are we stringing holiday lights or are we putting on our armor of light? Are we settling in for a long winter’s nap or are we awake to Jesus coming? Are we ready for what comes next?
|2 Sm 5:1-3
||Ps 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5
Kings and kingdoms: who can save us?
On this final Sunday of the liturgical year we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. (Next week we start a new liturgical year centered on readings from Matthew’s gospel.) The Lectionary readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider Jesus’ kingship and kingdom.
The first reading from the second book of Samuel describes the selection and anointing of David. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to introduce David’s kingship. For Hebrew scripture writers, David was the model king; the prophets promised that the messiah would come from David’s line. The messiah would be a new David: a king and a shepherd of his people.
The second reading from the letter to the Colossae ekklesia celebrates Christ’s messianic kingship. The words “delivered” and “transferred” in v 13 echo the Israelites’ Exodus experience and introduce the kingdom theme. The author explains redemption as “forgiveness of sins” (v 14). The Christological hymn (vv 15-20) describes Christ’s kingship in three sections: creation (vv 15-16), preservation (vv 17-18a), redemption (vv 18b-20).
The gospel, from Luke’s passion narrative, gives three human views on Jesus’ kingship and kingdom. These human misunderstandings hinge on the interpretation of the word “to save,” which appears four times in vv 35-39. The three views are:
- Rulers: “He saved others, let him save himself.” The Jewish people’s rulers or leaders mock Jesus because he is a failed political messiah who couldn’t translates his miracles and healings into a populist movement. When they tell Jesus to “save himself,” they fail to see Jesus’ saving act as leading (“shepherding,” see the first reading: 2 Sam 5:2) and redeeming everyone.
- Soldiers: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” The Roman soldiers mock Jesus because he is a failed human king who has no armies. The soldiers confuse the transient Roman emperor’s military power with God’s just and eternal kingdom. When they tell Jesus to “save himself,” they fail to see Jesus’ saving act as establishing God’s kingdom in the midst of their oppressive human empire.
- Criminal: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The criminal mocks Jesus because he is a failed military messiah who can’t deliver the Jews from their Roman oppressors. When the criminal tells Jesus to “save yourself and us,” he fails to see Jesus’ saving act as transforming all human life and death.
Although the rulers, soldiers, and the criminal urge Jesus to “save himself,” Jesus is the only human who doesn’t need saving. The reason that Jesus comes into the world is to save everyone else.
This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about what Jesus’ kingship and kingdom means to us. Jesus’ saving act redeemed everyone. God’s kingdom, now present, exists for everyone. Jesus’ death and resurrection changes the meaning of human death and life. Do we think human leaders will save us, or do we know we need redemption? Do we think power will save us, or do we see such justice and peace only when God reigns? Do we think we can save ourselves, or can we ask the saving king to remember us in his kingdom?
||Ps 98:5-6, 7-8, 9
||2 Thes 3:7-12
The end of the world: a time of fear or faith?
On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on the end times and Jesus’ return. This week’s readings invite us to consider the coming kingdom.
In the first reading, Malachi (the name means “my messenger”) describes the coming “day of the Lord.” The prophets use this phrase to signal the hoped-for messiah’s appearance: God will establish God’s kingdom, save those who remained faithful to the covenant, and punish the unfaithful ones. The Lectionary editors chose this reading with its apocalyptic images to match today’s gospel theme.
In the second reading, from the second letter to the Thessalonians, the author addresses a specific problem: some members, believing that Jesus had already returned, stopped working. These members were now were living off the work of the rest of the community. The letter’s author states clearly: everyone works together to support the believing community.
Luke’s gospel presents part of Jesus’ “eschatological discourse.” Eschatology is “the study of the last things:” the end times, God’s judgement, and the establishment of God’s kingdom. Jesus (and Luke) want us to know the following:
- Destruction of the Jerusalem temple: As Jesus is teaching in the temple, he hears some people ooh and aah about the temple’s expensive decoration. Jesus tells them that “the days are coming” when all this will be destroyed. When Luke writes his gospel (mid 80s AD), Jesus’ prophecy is already fulfilled: the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD. Luke offers Jesus’ fulfilled prophecy as evidence of who Jesus is.
- Signs of the end times: Like Malachi in the first reading, Jesus uses apocalyptic images (wars, famines, earthquakes, signs in the sky) of the end times that precede God’s bringing forth the kingdom. Apocalyptic (meaning “to unveil” or “to reveal”) language developed in Jewish culture to describe the fulfillment of prophecies, especially of the end times. Jesus’ apocalyptic words place him in the Jewish prophetic tradition.
- Persecutions: Jesus tells his disciples that they will be persecuted, but that these persecutions will allow them to “give testimony” or “bear witness” to Jesus. When Luke writes his gospel, the emperor Nero (mid 60s AD) has already executed Peter, Paul, and other disciples; and local leaders sporadically threaten Christians. Jesus’ fulfilled prophecy again shows who Jesus is.
- Do not be afraid: Jesus tells current (and future) disciples, “by your perseverance (in faith) you will secure your lives.” Jesus comforts his disciples, reminding us that we are saved from destruction and persecution through faith in him.
On this last Sunday in Ordinary time, the readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about God’s coming kingdom. We pray in the Our Father, “let your kingdom come.” We don’t need to wait for the world to end to join God’s kingdom–we’ll join at the end of our earthly lives. As faithful Christians, we look forward to letting God’s kingdom come with hope, not fear. Our faith saves us.
|2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14
||Ps 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15
||2 Thes 2:16-3:5
The end times: promise of resurrection
During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. As we near the end of the liturgical year, the Sunday readings’ themes become eschatological, focusing on the end times and Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings invite us to think about the meaning of resurrection–both Jesus’ Easter resurrection and our own resurrections.
The first reading from 2 Maccabees describes the torture of a Jewish family (a widowed mother and her seven sons) by the Syrian king Antiochus IV. The family chooses to follow the covenant laws rather than save their lives. As they face death, the brothers express their belief in a personal resurrection. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match today’s gospel’s resurrection debate.
The second reading from the second letter to the Thessalonians continues last week’s reading. Last week, the author discussed Jesus’ delayed parousia and urged his hearers not “to be alarmed” by rumors that “the day of the Lord is at hand.” This week the author concludes 2 Thes 2 with a blessing, and opens 2 Thes 3 with a prayer request for his work and for the believing community to grow in faith.
In today’s gospel Jesus spars with the Sadducees over the idea of resurrection. Jesus is now in Jerusalem, teaching in the Temple area. The Sadducees were a conservative Jewish religious faction who accepted only the written Torah as valid Hebrew scripture, rejecting the Prophets and the Writings. They try to turn the Temple crowds against Jesus by presenting an absurd case in which seven brothers in succession marry a childless widow. They then ask Jesus, “If there is a resurrection, to which brother is she married?” They expect Jesus must answer either “All, because they will all be resurrected,” or “None, because there is no resurrection.” Recognizing their trap, Jesus responds by insulting the Sadducees, answering their question, pointing out the limits of their thinking, and asking a question they can’t answer:
- Jesus’ insult: “Humans marry and are given in marriage” (v 34). Jesus states the obvious to insult the Sadducees.
- Jesus’ answer: “Resurrected ones do not marry nor are given in marriage.” (v 35). Jesus answers the Sadducees’ question.
- The Sadducees’ limited thinking: “Resurrected ones can’t die.” (v 36). Jesus tells the Sadducees that resurrected ones are different because they are deathless. Resurrected life is not a continuation of earthly life, but something new and different.
- A question from Jesus: “Moses revealed at the burning bush that he believed in the resurrection” (v 37). Jesus uses the Sadducees’ own Torah (Ex 3:6) to prove the resurrection. Jesus asks, “If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead, how could God be the God of the living?”
Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to think about the meaning of resurrection. Jesus’ final point–that God is a God of the living, not the dead–puts the emphasis on God’s relationship with those God loves. That relationship transcends human death. Jesus’ Easter resurrection foreshadows and promises our own resurrections. Do we believe God’s love surpasses death? Do we live that relationship?