On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church asks us to meditate on animals and angels. For Christ, in his own person, joins together the disparate elements of creation, the spiritual and the material, angels and wild beasts. There are, of course, angels and wild beasts in all of us. We are all a microcosm of the ethereal and the corporeal, the spiritual and the physical.
Our Gospel this week gives us one of the great scenes of healing in the ministry of Jesus, and as is usually the case, the Gospel writer composes the scene in such a way that it becomes an icon of the spiritual life in general. In our sickness, our weakness, our shame, our sin, our oddness—lots of us feel like this leper. And once we’ve been healed by the Lord, we feel the obligation to tell the world about it.
It is of particular importance this week that we read the first reading and the Gospel together, for the former sheds enormous light on the latter. In the first reading, Moses assures the people: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself." Moses received the word from God, but this new prophet would be an authority greater than Moses. He would speak with the words of God. And in the Gospel reading from Mark, this is precisely who Jesus is revealed to be: the highest prophet and the Word of God made flesh.
When Christianity is reduced to deism or moralism, we turn the Gospel into a faint echo of the surrounding culture. But today's readings propose something much more substantive than spiritual bromides or ethical directives. They suggest a new world breaking into the old.
Our modern culture suggests a tension between spirituality and religion. But the Magi in today's Gospel demonstrate that when spirituality is lifted up by revelation—when the Magi are told by the religious leaders where the Messiah is to be born—we find the object of our spiritual longing.
The Bible is not particularly sentimental about families. What makes a family holy, as far as the biblical writers are concerned, is its willingness to surrender to the purpose of God. We see this in a number of key figures, including Joseph, Abraham, and Hannah.
The readings for this dramatic fourth Sunday of Advent put us in the heart of a deep and abiding mystery: the mystery of God’s providence. Just when we are tempted to say, “nothing makes sense,” the Bible interrupts us to say, “wait.” God works in subtle ways, and often it takes years, even centuries, for God’s plan fully to be realized.
Our second reading today is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians—and it always takes my breath away. He says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” For Paul, the coming of Jesus changed everything. His dying and rising turned everything upside down, so that the usual ways of thinking and acting are not longer valid. Grace has transfigured nature—and the three recommendations he gives are signs of this transfiguration.