Advent Prophecy, Third Monday of Advent, December 16, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Third Week of Advent
December 16, 2013
Num 24:2-7.15-17, Ps 25, Mt 21:23-27

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today is the last day of the first part of Advent. Tomorrow we begin with proximate preparation with the pre-Christmas octave, highlighted by each day’s “O-Antiphons” and the increasing expectation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Today we have in the first reading a prophetic announcement of that coming in the diviner Balaam’s prophecy, given about 1300 years before Christ: “I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: a star shall advance from Jacob and a [shepherd’s] staff shall rise from Israel.” But today’s readings not only whet our appetite for Christmas but teach us something very important about prophecy, how we’re supposed to receive it and how we’re supposed to give it.
  • We see a huge contrast in the first reading and the Gospel. In the first reading, we see this mysterious figure called Balaam, who was a pagan diviner whom the Moabite King Balac bribed to pronounce a curse over Israel. When Balaam tried to curse Israel on four separate occasions, however, he couldn’t. Instead he pronounced a blessing — and the greatest blessing of all, foretelling the coming of Jesus. Even though he certainly didn’t start in the right place, he couldn’t help but acknowledge and announce the truth and the light God revealed to him. In the Gospel we see something different. The chief priests and elders of the people, who had started with God’s revelation, ended up rejecting both Jesus’ fulfillment of all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies, but also avoided telling the truth about the prophetic announcement of John the Baptist. They were opposed to the light. They didn’t even want to speak about John’s baptism lest they have to take a stand on whether he was a prophet or not. But at a practical level they didn’t treat him as a prophet because they didn’t heed his message and make straight the paths.
  • Pope Francis in his homily this morning in the Vatican described what had happened with the chief priests and the elders. Once one begins to shut his ear to God’s speaking to us, God’s continued prophecy, all that’s left is power and control. That’s why they asked Jesus the question, “By whose authority are you doing these things?” It had all become a question of authority, and they knew Jesus didn’t have their authority, and likely, they thought, hadn’t received a mission from anyone else who could give it in categories they would acknowledge. The fact that God had given him authority — or even more, that he was God and was speaking on his own authority — hadn’t even crossed their mind. Jesus took their question and tried to open them up to the question of God’s authority with regard to John the Baptist’s mission, whether it was of heavenly or human origin. If they weren’t going to answer the question about God’s authority, then neither was Jesus going to answer their question. Pope Francis says that today when the clergy and elders resist authority, what remains is clericalism, a sense of authority and power that is no longer ordered to God’s word and God’s authority.
  • But the problem is larger than what afflicts chief priests, elders and clergy, yesterday and today. Today’s readings help us to examine our own attitude toward God’s prophecy and toward truly becoming his prophets. Are we responsive or resistant to the message God sends us? Have we acted on John the Baptist’s summons to us to make straight the paths of the Lord by conversion and a good confession or have we blown off what God has announced to us through him on the Second Sunday of Advent, yesterday on the Third Sunday of Advent and other times throughout this Season?
  • The attitude each of us should have toward God’s word announced to us through the prophets is given to us in the Responsorial Psalm, “Teach me your ways, O Lord! Guide me in your truth and teach me!” There’s not only an openness but an active, hungry docility. Pope Francis this morning described how prophecy involves “three times,” the past, the present and the future. The prophet first is aware of the past and all God has done and promised; it’s a living memory. Second, he contemplatively applies that living memory to the situation of the present and the particular circumstances of his listeners. And third, on the basis of that application, he guides them with hope and courage on the right path toward the future. That’s what St. John the Baptist does for us, applying God’s message of conversion and mercy to our present circumstance so that we may know what we need to do today so that we may walk in his paths today and tomorrow. That’s what Pope Francis has done for us with his recent apostolic exhortation, calling us all to live our faith with the joy Christ gives us and seek to transform every aspect of our life and Church life so that we may share that joy with others in the urgent task of the new evangelization.
  • Pope Francis’ insight leads us to the second main message of about prophecy from today’s readings. It’s not just something we receive but something we’re supposed to become. During the time of Moses, Joshua complained that there were people not of their number prophesying in the name of the Lord. Moses’ reply was not to shut them down but to exclaim, “Would that all were prophets!” That wish of Moses came to fruition when Jesus came. By Baptism, we have all become prophets, sharing in Jesus’ prophetic mission. By Confirmation, we have all be strengthened to fulfill that mission of proclaiming the Gospel to every creature. We are called to have a living memory of all God has done and said, which points to the importance of our prayerful assimilation of Sacred Scripture. We’re called to love our neighbor, to know their situations, and to share the faith with them in a way that would most effectively communicate to them the love of Christ and inspire them to reciprocate that love. And we’re called by doing so to point out the path Christ is and has indicated so that they and we may walk in it together. Especially as we approach the celebration of Christmas, this prophetic task that Christ has entrusted to all of us is even more important, because so many Catholics live this season according to the criteria of commercialism instead of the Gospel. We need to share our living memory, to help them to celebrate this great feast properly so that they may learn how to live with God-with-us all the days of their life.
  • As we learn from Balaam’s prophetic utterance despite his bad beginning, and the chief priests’ and elders’ refusal to accept John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ words and actions despite their good beginning having been nourished by God’s word and the worship of him in the temple, it doesn’t matter so much where we start but how we end up. This goes for us this Advent and it also goes for everyone else. We prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth in a stranger’s animal cave rather than a place and being placed in a beast’s trough rather than in a crib. That would have seemed in the eyes of the world and even in many religious Jews’ eyes as if the child were cursed from the start, but we know that even from those humble grounds, God turned that affliction into a blessing. In an even more powerful way, when three decades later that newborn King of the Jews was pinned to a tree underneath a signed mockingly proclaiming him that king of the Jews, God did something even greater. The Jews and Romans both used to say, “Cursed be anyone who dies on a tree,” and many of the same chief priests and elders were cursing Jesus as they saw him dying on Good Friday. But God made that malediction the greatest blessing in human history — in fact the blessing with which we began our prayer of the Mass and the blessing with which we will finish our Mass. God always draws good out of evil, he always seeks to turn curses into caress, blights into blessings. We ask him to convert in us whatever is resistant to receiving his prophetic words and sharing them and to transform us into the disciples and prophets the world so much needs this Advent and beyond!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
NM 24:2-7, 15-17A

When Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel encamped, tribe by tribe,
the spirit of God came upon him,
and he gave voice to his oracle:The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor,
the utterance of a man whose eye is true,
The utterance of one who hears what God says,
and knows what the Most High knows,
Of one who sees what the Almighty sees,
enraptured, and with eyes unveiled:
How goodly are your tents, O Jacob;
your encampments, O Israel!
They are like gardens beside a stream,
like the cedars planted by the LORD.
His wells shall yield free-flowing waters,
he shall have the sea within reach;
His king shall rise higher,
and his royalty shall be exalted.Then Balaam gave voice to his oracle:The utterance of Balaam, son of Beor,
the utterance of the man whose eye is true,
The utterance of one who hears what God says,
and knows what the Most High knows,
Of one who sees what the Almighty sees,
enraptured, and with eyes unveiled.
I see him, though not now;
I behold him, though not near:
A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a staff shall rise from Israel.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 25:4-5AB, 6 AND 7BC, 8-9

R. (4) Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your kindness are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
he teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.

MT 21:23-27

When Jesus had come into the temple area,
the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him
as he was teaching and said,
“By what authority are you doing these things?
And who gave you this authority?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me,
then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things.
Where was John’s baptism from?
Was it of heavenly or of human origin?”
They discussed this among themselves and said,
“If we say ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us,
‘Then why did you not believe him?’
But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd,
for they all regard John as a prophet.”
So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.”
He himself said to them,
“Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”