Rediscovering and Acting on Jesus’ Authority, Third Monday of Advent, December 15, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Third Week of Advent
December 15, 2014
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: 

  • We see a huge contrast today between the first reading and the Gospel. In the Book of Numbers, 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 1,300 year later: “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.” Even though Balaam 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 totally 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 as well as telling the truth about the prophetic announcement of John the Baptist. For them, they were no longer interested in the truth. They were interested only in authority, and, frankly, not God’s authority but their own. They asked Jesus , “By whose authority are you doing these things?” because 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. It was a category they refused to acknowledge even existed. Jesus knew this and for that reason asked a question not to trip them up but to bring them conversion, seeking to have them acknowledge God’s authority. That’s why he asked, “Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” It was designed to open them up to the fact that God as the Source of all authority could have sent John. But they didn’t respond with an interest in the truth of things, just with a political calculus: “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.'” At a practical level, however, they didn’t treat him as a prophet because they didn’t heed his message and make straight the paths and they didn’t heed his indication of Jesus as the Lamb of God who had come into the world to fulfill all the prophecies of the sacrificial lambs in the temple.
  • The attitude each of us should have toward God’s word announced to us with God’s authority through St. John the Baptist and announced to us by the Author himself is given to us in the Responsorial Psalm, “Teach me your ways, O Lord! Guide me in your truth and teach me!” There’s supposed to be not only an openness but an active, hungry docility. And God always wants to respond to that prayer, but we need to be open to how he responds. The scribes and the Pharisees prayed Psalm 25 often, asking the Lord to teach them his ways, but when he sought to teach them through St. John the Baptist or come to teach them in person, they rejected his teaching, his truth, his ways. Today’s readings help us to examine our own attitude toward God’s prophecy. 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 essentially ignored or just given lip service to the need for conversion 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? Have we opened ourselves up to the “star” of Jacob and the “shepherd” of Israel who came in order to revolutionize our lives and make us live like him in the midst of the world, sent out by him not only with his blessing but, to some degree, as his blessing?
  • 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, namely the Sign of the Cross. 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, prophets and divine blessing 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.

Alleluia Ps 85:8

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Show us, LORD, your love,
and grant us your salvation.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel 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.”