A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 2)
Second Sunday of Advent, Year A – December 5, 2004
“Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand!”
Is 11:1-10 // Rom 15:4-9 // Mt 3: 1-12
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
Conversion entails personal effort in response to God’s grace. Our Advent preparation for the Lord’s coming demands a process of conversion in response to the prophetic challenge, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2). The story of Mike McGarvin, the founder of Poverello House in Fresno, illustrates what true conversion and the coming of God’s kingdom mean. In his excellent book, Papa Mike, he writes about some significant moments of his conversion process, cf. p. 51-52. One of them was when he was trying to quit drugs and the bad company he was keeping. When he sought the counsel of a priest, he was told to pray about it and read the Bible. He decided to give it a try for a week. He narrates:
It was a week of hard partying, and I kept getting offers of drugs and booze. I would politely refuse, and then go back to reading my Bible. By the end of the week, I still couldn’t see any solution to the problem. I’d prayed, I’d read my Bible, but nothing happened. The temptation was getting to me, and I was about to give up and start getting high again, when my roommate approached me. “Hey, McGarvin,” he said. “I gotta talk to you. You’re really starting to bug me with this religious stuff. It really screws things up when we’re trying to party. You make me nervous and my friends nervous. I don’t want you around anymore, man, so I’ll cut you a deal. I’ll give you money to move out if you just leave. No hard feelings, you’re just bumming me out, and I can’t deal with it anymore.” The amount he offered was just enough to get me into someplace else, so I took him up on it …
About this time, there was one important and unusual experience that helped me more fully embrace the faith. On weekends, I was going to a Franciscan retreat near Danville. I wanted this new life that was being offered me, but at the same time, my old days were beckoning. It was a struggle between light and darkness. My past was hateful to me, but the drugs, sex, and violence still wielded the power to attract and corrupt me. I’d go to the retreat house to find some peace, to pray, and to try to achieve some clarity. One of those weekends, I was up there praying, when suddenly the room seemed to be filled with bright light. I experienced a feeling of peace and comfort that was overwhelming. It probably lasted only a few minutes, but I really don’t know how long, because time seemed to stand still … Soon after this, I was baptized into the Catholic Church.”
Today’s Gospel reading (Mt 3:1-12) presents a powerfully evocative Advent figure in this season of grace: John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah. The evangelist Matthew declared: “It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mt 3:3). An intensely ascetic holy man living in the wilderness of Judah, John prepared the people for the advent of Christ and ushered in the messianic saving call to conversion. The prophetic cry of the fiery John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2) was exactly the same words as the proclamation of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry (cf. Mt 4:17). The biblical scholar Daniel Harrington comments: “Both preachers demand a radical conversion of the whole person to God, and both urge it as preparation for the new age when the God of Israel will be acknowledged as the Lord by all creation. That time is very close at hand.”
Matthew depicted the enigmatic figure of the messianic precursor in terms of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah: “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Mt 3:4). That the clothing of John was similar to the clothing of Elijah described in 2 Kings 1:8 communicates a subliminal message that John was the returning Elijah who would prepare the day of the Lord (cf. Mal 4:5). John ate locusts and wild honey, ritually clean food available in the wilderness. Locusts were one of the few insects Jews were permitted to eat. Through these rustic images, the evangelist Matthew presented the forerunner of Jesus as preparing the path of the Lord and treading the way of righteousness according to the Law. More interestingly, Matthew spoke of the prophetic and sacramental activity of John: “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins” (Mt 3:5-6). The Jewish historian Josephus testified that John drew large crowds for his exhortations to justice and piety. He also described John’s ritual baptism as a symbolic action signifying that a conversion of heart had taken place.
Apart from those who truly acknowledged their sins, John had other baptismal candidates who were not genuine, but had hypocritical motives. The evangelist thus described the righteous outrage of John the Baptist: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee form the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Mt 3:7). Indeed, the prophet John’s ritual baptism was meant to be a symbolic act calling people to acknowledge their sins. Undergoing the baptism of John at the river Jordan was a means of preparing themselves for the coming of the messianic kingdom. Lamentably, however, some of those who attempted to be baptized did not have a true spirit of repentance and were not ready to welcome the advent of God’s kingdom into their lives.
The Italian founder of the Focolare movement, Chiara Lubich comments on this Sunday’s Gospel passage: “The conversion called for in the gospel by John the Baptist and, immediately after him, by Jesus, consists in a complete reversal of our lifestyle, a real 180 degree turn. It means putting God, rather than self or any other earthly thing, at the center of our life, of making his Word the measure of all our thoughts and actions. The great sin into which the Pharisees and Sadducees had fallen was exactly that of not having given God his rightful place … They placed more importance on all outward displays of religion and its cult than on what God wanted, especially love of neighbor and service of others. Jesus was to emphasize even more clearly that the will of God consists, in a special way, precisely in this: Bring forth fruit, then, worthy of repentance …For many people in our era, then, repentance will consist in accepting – or re-accepting – God in their lives; God without whom we have no real meaning. Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance, then …The truth is that even we Christians are often able to see ourselves in those Pharisees and Sadducees against whom the Baptist let fly. How often are we Christian more by certain inherited habits and a smattering of religious instruction than by deep conviction and deliberate choice of God! Maybe we reduce our Christianity to its traditions and outward practices without feeling ourselves obliged to put into practice God’s commandments, especially that of love of neighbor?”
John the Baptist asserted to the Pharisees and Sadducees that salvation is not hereditary and warned his hypocritical baptismal candidates about the ultimate judgment that the coming Messiah would bring. The messianic precursor avowed: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:11-12). With regards to the impending eschatological judgment that will be actualized with the advent of the Messiah, St. Augustine exhorts us: “Each of us would be wise therefore to take to heart the advice of his teacher, and not waste this present time. It is now that our Savior offers us his mercy, now while he still spares the human race. Understand that it is in hope of our conversion that he spares us, for he desires no one’s damnation. As for when the end of the world will be, that is God’s concern. Now is the time of faith.”
Challenged by the prophetic cry of John the Baptist, which anticipates the proclamation of Jesus Christ: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2 // Mt 4:17), the Christian community of today is being called to live this Advent season as a hopeful waiting in time of conversion. According to Adrian Nocent: “John the Baptist will be constantly summoning men to conversion; such will be his basic role and the image we will rightly have of him.” The precursor of Jesus is therefore a powerful Advent figure to remind us in the here and now that preparing the way of the Lord demands conversion and that being immersed in the baptismal waters demands bearing fruits in good deeds.
Chiara Lubich concludes: “Our world that is so wounded can only be healed by Jesus. And he calls on us, his disciples, to allow him to live in us. Baptism has given us his life but our own, freely chosen, living out of it is required: the gospel with all that it demands, cannot live on discount, it cannot be watered down. If we do this we will experience his transforming power. For all of us, then, there is only one thing to do: let us be converted in reality, in deed.
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Do we hear the prophetic cry of John the Baptist in the wilderness of our hearts: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2)? What is our response to this challenge?
B. How is our life influenced and shaped by the imminent eschatological judgment that comes with the advent of the Messiah?
C. How do we live out our life of baptismal consecration? Are we truly converted in word and in deed? How is our daily life an actualization of our conversion and the new life signified by sacramental baptism?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: Loving Father,
in this Advent season help us to respond
to the prophetic cry of John the Baptist in the wilderness,
place of encounter with judgment and grace.
Let his fiery appeal,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2)
resound in our hearts.
May our lives be marked with true repentance
as we prepare the way of the Lord.
Immersed into the waters of baptism
and fired with the energy of the Holy Spirit,
may we always let Christ be the center of our lives.
May the grace of the Advent season shape and transform us
so that we may look forward with joy to Christ’s coming in glory.
In today’s wounded world,
strengthen us for the task of prophecy, service and witnessing.
As precursors of Christ,
help us to work zealously
for the advent of your kingdom of justice, peace and love.
He lives and reigns forever and ever.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: As part of your positive response to the advent of the Lord in our lives and as Christian precursors in today’s world, see what you can do to relieve the plight of the poor, the needy, the homeless, the refugees, etc.
B. ACTION PLAN: Spend an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. As an aid to this, visit the PDDM Website (www.pddm.us) for the following: EUCHARISTIC ADORATION through the Liturgical Year: A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
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