A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 3)

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A – December 12, 2004

 

“The One to Come”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 35:1-6a, 10 // Jam 5:7-10 // Mt 11:2-11

 

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS

 

            On this Advent Sunday, traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, marked especially by a note of rejoicing in view of the forthcoming celebration of the birth of Jesus, we continue to focus our attention on the one who is to come”. The joy that ensues from the advent into one’s life by the saving Lord Jesus, of which the Christian disciples are instruments, may be gleaned from a story narrated by Rebecca Manley Pippert (cf. “Somebody Loved Him” in Stories for the Heart, Multnomah Publishers: Sisters, Oregon, 1996, p. 233-236). The author writes about the sad plight of an eastern European Jew who spent five years in a concentration camp during World War II after his own wife traitorously tipped off the Gestapo. Released after the war, Jacob realized that he lost everything, even the hope of seeing his own son. His blood brother who had not seen him in years, refused to believe that the haggard, decrepit-looking bum at his door was really Jacob. As he lay dying on a park bench, a teenage girl came to his rescue. Here is R.M. Pippert’s account of the life-giving messianic mission of that kind-hearted Christian girl to Jacob.

 

            Suddenly he heard a soft voice speaking to him. Jacob opened his eyes and to his astonishment he saw her looking at him with a compassion and sincerity that caught him off guard … “Sir, I was afraid to come over here, but I feel like God is nudging me to tell you something, before I get back on my bus. I wish I knew how to say it better but, well, sir, Jesus loves you. He loves you. He really does.” He looked at her in disbelief. This child was telling him that somebody in heaven loved him? After all the hell he had been through, all the indignity he had suffered, all the rage that had filled his soul for so many years … But as he looked up at her face he saw tears streaming down her cheeks, and to his astonishment he began to weep as well. “No one could love me, child. It’s too late for me,” he said between sobs. “No,” she replied urgently as she took his thin, gnarled hand into hers. “It’s not too late. God will gladly take you if only you’d let him. Just tell him that you want to. He will love you and help you.”

 

He said it was at that moment that he knew that Someone was reaching out to him through her … The girl and the friend who was with her helped him up and they took him by bus to the home where they were staying. The family nursed Jacob back to health for one entire year. During the course of that year they shared their faith, read to him from the Bible and prayed with him. Eventually what began as a dying man’s desperate invitation to God to take his life, became a total commitment of his life and soul to his Messiah … Jacob eventually found a good job, lived in his own apartment and went back to his brother and was reconciled … As long as I live I will never forget the expression on his face as he spoke of what Jesus meant to him. “It would have been so easy,” he said, “to have rejected that girl. To have chosen to harbor all the years of resentment and disillusionment in my heart. But to think that God reached out to me, gave me a home and a family who loved me, restored my health, and above all else, filled my heart with a gladness and joy I never knew was possible!”

 

The identity of that charitable girl and her family is undoubtedly “Christian”. They are so because they have discovered, known and loved the person of Jesus as the saving Lord and have put this revelation into practice. This Sunday’s Gospel pericope (Mt 11:2-11) is also about identity – an enormously greater one - the identity of “the one who is to come” and of his precursor, John the Baptist, “the one who prepares the way”. The Gospel reading is divided into two main parts: the first concerns John’s delegation to Jesus and the latter’s reply about his identity (v. 2-6); the second deals with the identity of John the Baptist as described by Jesus to the crowds (v. 7-11).

 

            Since his arrest (cf. Mt 4:12), John the Baptist had been hearing of “the works of the Christ” (Mt 11:2). From prison he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Mt 11:3).  According to modern exegetes, John the Baptist was not expressing complete doubt about Jesus, but perplexity that he was not the kind of Messiah he had expected. The Jesuit biblical scholar, John McKenzie comments: “With the little information we have about him, we can surmise that the heavy emphasis on the eschatological judgment the Gospels report in John’s preaching (cf. Mt 3:1-10) did not appear in the proclamation of Jesus and that this caused John wonder.”

 

The answer of Jesus to the emissaries substantiated his messianic identity by enumerating his saving “works” in terms of the messianic expectations of ancient prophets, especially Isaiah (cf. Is 35:5-6; 61:1): “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:4-5). John McKenzie explains: “The answer of Jesus, although it is not a formal claim of messiahship, alludes to phenomena that in the Old Testament and Judaism were expected in the messianic era. More important, the quotations establish the type of messiahship that Jesus lets those see who will look. It is not a messiahship of the eschatological judgment of wrath, nor the establishment of a messianic empire over all the kingdoms of the earth, nor a war of extermination against the enemies of the elect people. The messiahship here suggested is a messiahship of the healing of ills and the confirming of blessing.” Indeed, by alluding to ancient messianic prophecies, Jesus was asserting that the era of definitive salvation was joyfully breaking forth and being inaugurated. Rather than resort to violence and retribution, he dedicated himself to compassionate works of beneficence, saving miracles and the proclamation of the Good News to the poor. In a marvelous and unexpected way, Jesus of Nazareth thus brought to fulfillment the messianic prophecies concerning “the one who is to come”.

 

The Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton reflects on Christ’s answer to John, which he calls, “the answer of newness and of life”. According to him: “Here are two kinds of eschatological signs, and they compenetrate one another, for they are all signs of life, proceeding from love. Evil ends, and gives place to good in a physical and visible way: blindness ends, sight begins. Sickness ends, health begins. Death ends, life begins. But all these signs are evidence of an inexhaustible living power, the action of life itself, bursting into time, defeating and reversing the work of time. Hence this power manifests the fullness of time … More important than the eschatological sign of renewed physical life is the sign par excellence: The gospel is preached to the poor. This means that the prophetic message of salvation, the fulfillment of the divine promises is now formally announced to the anawim, to those who hungered and thirsted for the kingdom because they had no hope but the Lord. And therefore the last days have come … The Last Days have come not merely because the poor have heard about Christ but because they “are” Christ. The poor themselves now become an eschatological sign of Christ, a sign by which other men are judged.”

 

The final words of Jesus to John’s emissaries were: “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Lk 11:6). Those who welcome Jesus as the radically new and perfect model of the savior-figure based primarily on mercy and compassion, and not on fiery judgment and authority, are truly blessed. Those who welcome Jesus as the healing Christ of the poor and are not scandalized by the meek quality of his benevolent messiahship will relish the blessing of salvation. Indeed, the messianic works that Jesus carried out on behalf of the anawim are signs that evoke a faith response and solicit personal involvement from people in every time and space.

 

The second part of this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Mt 11:6-11) is devoted almost exclusively to an exquisite description of John the Baptist’s prophetic identity, which Jesus delineated through a series of rhetorical questions and statements of assertion. As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the crowds about John: “What did you go to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you’” (Mt 11:7-10). Indeed, John the Baptist, the courageous “voice in the desert”, was not a “reed swayed by the wind”, that is, someone unstable and unworthy (cf. Ez 29:6-9; Wis 4:4). Neither was he “dressed in fine clothing” as the political figures and nobles in palaces were robed. He was none of these, but rather, a prophet. John the Baptist, however, was more than a prophet. Jesus identified him as the Lord’s messenger prophesied by Malachi (3:1), the precursor who would prepare the way of the messianic Lord, “the one who is to come”.

 

The important role that John carried out in salvation history impelled Jesus to declare: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been no greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11a). Though acknowledging the greatness of John the Baptist as the last and greatest prophet of the old dispensation, the one preparing the messianic way, Jesus tempered his laudatory statement with the assertion: “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt 11:11b). Indeed, for all the greatness attributed to him, John the Baptist did not bring to fulfillment the decisive new age of God’s kingdom. Through his messianic works, Jesus Christ accomplished that. According to Celia Sirois: “John’s greatness in the old order has been surpassed now by the unpredictably new thing God had done in Jesus.” The era of the kingdom inaugurated and fulfilled by Jesus Christ immeasurably transcends that which preceded and prepared for it. Indeed, the greatness of John, the precursor, comes from the Messiah and his prophetic identity totally dependent on him. And so it is for us, Christian disciples of today!

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART

 

A.     Are there moments when our messianic expectations concretized in the person of Jesus are frustrated? Do we thus challenge him with the blunt question: “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” (Mt 11:3)?

 

B.     Do we continue to “hear and see” the following messianic miracles in daily life: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:4-5)? Why, how and in what way do these miracles continue to exist?

 

C.     How do you relive the prophetic mission of John the Baptist in your life as Christian disciples? Especially in this Advent season, how do you “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mt 11:10)?

 

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD

(Verses from the Commission Francophone Cistercienne, Chant E 202; assembly’s refrain by Lucien Deiss)

 

Leader: A voice cries out around the earth,

God is approaching in the night;

the seed of light is finally bearing fruit.

Behold the hour of the kingdom, the dead tree flowers again;

but before the Son  of man who can stand?

 

Assembly: As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

Leader: In the East his day arises, no one can escape his coming;

his word like a sword, lays hearts bare.

Only the poor find grace, only the poor know love:

God invites them to take their places near his eldest Son.

 

Assembly: As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

Leader: And the Lamb of new life, God made flesh in our time,

each day under humble signs comes before us.

Offer him your open hands, take his body which is given for you;

his love will be your feast, give him your faith.

 

Assembly: As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

Leader: March toward the City where your eyes will see the Lamb.

Look to him for the road to follow, leading to the new day!

 

Assembly: As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor had the good news proclaimed to them.” (Mt 11:5-6)

 

 

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION

 

A. ACTION PLAN: During this Advent week make an effort to replicate in your life of prayer, love and service the messianic work: “the poor had the good news proclaimed to them”. Pay particular attention to the needs of the poverty stricken and the homeless in your community.

 

 

B. ACTION PLAN: As part of our Advent welcome to “the one who is to come” and in view of a more meaningful celebration of the Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 3): 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

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

Go back