In our Gospel for today, Luke invokes the most significant cultural and political players of that time and place; but then, just as he did in the Christmas story, he pulls the rug out from under us. The word of God, the definitive guide to life, came not to one of the major players in their palaces, but to this isolated oddball, this mad prophet wearing animal skins and eating locusts. And this oddball prophet, who speaks the word of God, is ushering in a whole new way of ordering one’s life.
This Sunday is New Year’s Day, in the liturgical sense of the term. With the first Sunday of Advent, we commence the liturgical year of 2019. And New Year’s day is always a good time for resolutions, taking stock, starting over again. I want to interpret our Gospel for this Sunday, which portrays Jesus is full apocalyptic mode, in that spirit.
The liturgical year ends with the feast of Christ the King. This day reminds us what the Christian thing is all about: that Jesus really is the king, the Lord of our lives; that we belong utterly to him; and that we can say, with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
ur first reading for this weekend is from the utterly fascinating book of Daniel. Daniel is an example of apocalyptic literature, and apocalyptic books reveal something of decisive significance. We see that significance when Jesus comes preaching the kingdom of God, by which he was taken to be announcing the fulfillment of the Daniel prophecy. This is the apocalypse, the great unveiling: a new kingdom has come, a dominion that will last forever.
Today’s Scriptures highlight two widows and two very important biblical principles: God reveals himself precisely at that moment of our greatest vulnerability and need, and the grace in your life will increase in the measure that you give it away.
Our first reading for Mass this week contains the defining prayer of the Jewish tradition: the “Sh’ma.” In the Gospel, when asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus, a pious Jew, recites this prayer from the book of Deuteronomy. We Christians too claim—or better, are claimed by—this great prayer. But what does it mean?
Our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah treats of a theme that is basic throughout the Bible: the motif of the return from exile. Like two great hinges on which the Old Testament turns are the stories of Exodus and Exile. Israel finds itself enslaved in Egypt, but God liberates the people; later, the northern tribes are carried off by the Assyrians; and later still, the southern tribes are carried off by the Babylonians. But exile was also a kind of spiritual metaphor, a trope for having wandered far from the Lord.
Friends, all three readings for this weekend center around a theme that was very familiar to the ancient audiences who first took them in but that is rather alien to us. I’m talking about the theme of substitutionary sacrifice. A very basic problem that we have when we seek to understand this idea is that we are marked, through and through, by a strong individualism: everyone acts and speaks for himself and takes responsibility for his own actions. But ancient people lived within a far more collective or corporate consciousness.
The first reading for this weekend and the Gospel, which are meant to be read in tandem, are very good examples of what I’ve called principles of spiritual physics. They lay out some ideas and relationships that are fundamental to the spiritual order—laws, if you will. And both readings have a good deal to say about riches.
Our first reading for this weekend is of pivotal significance in the Bible, for it lays out some of the fundamentals of human anthropology and the Christian vision of marriage. It behooves us to take a careful and attentive walk through this brief but highly significant passage from the second chapter of the book of Genesis.