Homilies for January 2021

For Mary Mother of God, January 3 (Epiphany), January 10 (Baptism of the Lord), January 17, January 24, January 31

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God – January 1, 2021

Readings: Nm 6:22-27   Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8   Gal 4:4-7   Lk 2:16-21  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010121.cfm

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Of all of the feast days of Mary, this one seems to touch our heart the most. It is not often thought of, however, until it comes up on the Liturgical Calendar. Even as we acclaim her “Mother of God” in the Hail Mary, it doesn’t bring to mind the depth of what we are saying. Of course we think of Mary as the mother of Jesus, especially during the Christmas season, but Christmas is primarily about Jesus. Yes, there are Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem, but still our anticipation is the birth of the Christ Child. This one, however, brings Mary to the forefront of our hearts. It is not that with this she is more important to us than Jesus, but the title “Mother of God” gives focus to Mary and her motherhood. Motherhood in general is something of a sentimental notion, but to celebrate Mary’s motherhood fulfills our love for all mothers: our birth mothers, our wives as mothers of our children, grandmothers, all are an expression of love.

With Mary, Mother of God, we celebrate two articles of faith simultaneously. Along with Mary’s motherhood, we celebrate the Incarnation, God coming among us, God becoming one of us.

John the Evangelist begins his Gospel with these remarkable words:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

“And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

And with today’s Gospel acclamation, the Lectionary gives us the wonderful opening of the Letter to the Hebrews:

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.”

With these verses together we can begin to understand the beliefs that we hold; that through Mary, the Word of God, the Son of God, became one of us, and that God speaks to us through the Son, the Word made flesh, the Son of Mary. As God speaks to us “through the Son,” it is a revelation of Himself, He reveals Himself to us through the Son as Jesus Himself tells us:

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (cf. John 14:9) In Jesus we see God. He is God and reveals God to us. From this perspective we can better understand the deeper relation of the Incarnation and Mary’s motherhood. It seems, you might say, that the relationship is clear, maybe even that the two are synonymous, but at the deepest level there is a need to understand the distinction and therefore their sameness.

The problem we are skirting around is the concept of the birth of God. In the early centuries of the Church there were heresies that either questioned the humanity of Jesus or, conversely, claimed that he was (is) only human. In particular, the Nestorian heresy argued that Christ was a human person joined to the divine person of God’s Son. Two persons.

At the Council of Ephesus (431), in order to correct this heresy, St. Cyril of Alexandria declared “that the Word, uniting to himself in his person, the flesh animated by a rational soul, became man” (CCC 466) and the Council made it dogma, that Mary is Theotokos (God bearer.) The Catechism expounds on this by saying, “Christ’s humanity has no other subject than the divine person of the Son of God, who assumed it and made it his own, from his conception.” This declaration differs from the heresy in that the heresy proposes two persons whereas the Council makes it clear that the Divine Person, the Word, assumes or takes on human nature. It is two natures, divine and human, that are enjoined “hypostatically” in the Person of the Son. Not side-by-side as amalgamated, but permeated (sort of) so that the Divine Person expresses Himself through either.

One Divine Person, two natures and this union is manifested in a human body, “animated by a rational [human] soul.” For this St. Paul uses the phrase “according to the flesh.” There are various times in the Gospels that we can see the Divine Person (the Son) expressing Himself through His divine nature and at other times through His human nature.

In the eleventh century, St. Anselm, considered the father of scholasticism, defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Today we can consider theology as faith finding understanding. In the New Evangelization, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI encourage us to take the understanding of our faith beyond the catechesis that got us through Confirmation. This new evangelization was to be accomplished through new ministries of adult formation and study.

In considering these articles of faith, especially Mary, Mother of God, let us not allow the theology to overshadow the sentiment and devotion that we have for Mary. We are given this truth in that earlier catechesis, and for some that is enough. Jesus is the Son of Mary, We love Jesus, we love Mary. Jesus is God, Mary is the Mother of God. There may be nothing more to understand.

As we bring this joyous Christmas season to a close, let us carry this joy, the joy of the Christ Child and His Mother, into our new year.

“. . . Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death, amen.”

The Epiphany of the Lord – January 3, 2021

Readings: Is 60:1-6  Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13  Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6  Mt 2:1-12  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010321.cfm

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of The Epiphany of The Lord. It is easily recognized as the remembrance of the Three Wise Men who travel from afar to see the newborn King of the Jews. In this statement of remembrance there is a certain significance in the “who” that are remembered. Obviously the Three Wise Men and the King of the Jews. First let’s consider the Wise Men. They are also known as “the Three Kings,” or “the Magi.” The designation of “kings” in our tradition, although not a designation from the Gospels, comes from the correlation of the prophecy of Isaiah in our First Reading today: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” (Is 60:3) Where it is also said that they would “come from afar,” and that those who would come to the Lord would be “bearing gold and frankincense.” This prophecy should remind us of how St. Augustine describes the relationship of the Old Testament and the New: that “the New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.”

The other two designations, “Wise Men” and “Magi,” are related. In the singular, “magus,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it is “a member of a hereditary priestly class among the ancient Medes and Persians whose doctrines included belief in astrology.” In their study of the heavens they found a unique and undocumented star. As Magi, they saw the movement of this star and followed it. That in itself, however, does not explain their journey; why did they follow it? We do know, from their announcement to Herod, that they came to see “the newborn king of the Jews.”

Their astrology alone would not give them this information. It is not until we overlay the designation of “Wise Men” upon “Magi,” that we can speculate, interpretively, that their field of study was broader than astrology. Such wise men of the East studied many ancient texts in their search for wisdom. Within that assortment of texts would be what we call today the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures. There they would have discovered the prophecy of Isaiah and/or a similar passage from the story of Tobit:

“A bright light will shine to the limits of the earth.

Many nations will come to you from afar,

And inhabitants of all the ends of the earth to your holy name,

Bearing in their hands gifts for the King of heaven.” (Tobit 13:11)

The reason for the journey of the Wise Men/Magi, therefore, originated in the relation of the newly discovered star and the message they found in scripture. They embarked on their journey to see “the newborn king of the Jews [because they] saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

In this beautiful passage from Matthew, we find the beginning of the journey of the Wise Men, “his star at its rising,” and their return journey, “they departed for their country by another way.” In this beginning and their departure, we also have the analogy of the Christian life. In the Second Letter of St. Peter there is this familiar verse:

“We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Pet 1:19)

There are three parts to this story and analogy: seeking, finding what we seek, and the return to our life “by another way,” or conversion, which is an ongoing journey. As St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.” We are restless even as we do not (yet) know what it is we seek. Human nature has within it a natural desire for God. With the noble faculties of the human soul, the intellect seeks what’s true and the will seeks the good. It is only when we finally find comfort in Christ that we realize that the ultimate truth and the ultimate good is God, and with that a new way of life. Of course there are many who think they can find truth and goodness in various earthly, material things, many of which entrap us with false “rest” and a seemingly endless search within the material world. Money, fame, desire, are the wrong paths to truth and goodness.

It is not until our heart turns to a vision beyond earthly things that we begin to anticipate real comfort and potential rest. And even then, there are some who think they find their hearts’ desire in various spiritual religions. It is said that some people worship the wrong gods, but also there are those who worship the right God, our God, the only true God, but worship Him in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons. In each of these camps the desire of the heart does not find true rest.

After this consideration of the Wise Men of the Epiphany story, we should also consider what an epiphany is. Again turning to Webster’s dictionary, we find that it defines “epiphany” as “an appearance or revelatory manifestation of a divine being or a god.” But it also defines it as a “sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something;” and “an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as a commonplace event) usually simple and striking.” With these definitions in mind, the manifestation of the divine, a sudden perception of the essential nature of something, we find the epiphany of the Lord in other places in the Gospels. The Epiphany event of the visit of the Three Wise Men, is the manifestation of the Messiah among us, but most importantly it is the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles, to “all nations” as Isaiah puts it. The Three Wise Men were from the east and not from within the Jewish population; they were Gentiles. And being so, they are representative of the Gentile nations.

Today the Church also celebrates two other epiphanies. One is the Baptism of the Lord, where a voice from heaven came down saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” This reveals Jesus as the Son of God. We also celebrate the Wedding at Cana as an epiphany event, where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. This first miracle “revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.” (cf. Jn 2:1-11) Along with these three events celebrated liturgically, we could add The Transfiguration, where His divinity shines through His humanity.

Next week we will celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which will bring the Christmas Season to an end, and we will enter Ordinary Time. As the Lord went forth from His Baptism to His Gospel mission, we will go forth into our ordinary lives. Ordinary but a life “by another way” to follow Jesus Christ as His mission continues in us.

The Baptism of the Lord – January 10, 2021

Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7 or Is 55:1-11  Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 or Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6  Acts 10:34-38 or 1 Jn 5:1-9  Mk 1:7-11  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/011021.cfm

The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord brings to a close the Advent-Christmas season and begins Ordinary Time. This is not merely a statement of the sequence of the liturgical year, it marks the transition from the birth and early life of Jesus to His mission of Redemption and Salvation.

Entering into Ordinary Time refers not only to the readings and practices of the Mass here in the church, but a return to the routine and normal rhythms of our own lives. As wonderful as the Christmas season is, there is a certain sense of comfort that our lives will “get back to normal.” The planning, the travel, the visitors, the shopping, and all the preparation are over and now it is time to get back to the business of ordinary life.

We can see this same transition in the life of Jesus. Beginning with the moment of Incarnation, when Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and became the Virgin Mother of God, we have followed along with her and the many other persons who took part in the planning, the travel, the visitors, the gifts, and the preparation for Christ coming into the world which He Himself created. We have experienced the young Jesus, 12 years old, going home with His family, being obedient to them, to learn the things that everyone learns as we grow up, even learning a worldly trade as a carpenter, and we are told that “He grew in wisdom and favor before God and man.”

And now he emerges from that private family life to begin His mission, to do the Father’s will and fulfill God’s plan of Salvation. We also return to our parallel mission of raising our families, working at our worldly trade and we are called to participate in Jesus’ own mission in the world. We must live our ordinary lives and also do the will of the Father and participate in God’s plan of Salvation.

Today we have the Baptism of the Lord from Mark’s Gospel. Jesus comes to John to be baptized, and when Jesus emerges from the water the heavens open up and God the Father and the Holy Spirit reveal their presence to us. This is consistent with the other Gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, however, there are two additional verses in which Jesus and John discuss what is about to happen.

John is reluctant to baptize Jesus, knowing that He is the superior one, and John humbles himself by saying, “I should be baptized by you.” (cf. Mt 3:14) Jesus replies in an interesting way. He says, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15)

To understand what Jesus means by “righteousness” we go back to the idea of righteousness in the Old Testament. It means being in a right relationship with God. Through the Torah, which is the Law of the Old Covenant, given to the people as a way to live in “right relationship” with God.

The original schism in man’s relationship with God was, of course, Original Sin, which affects every human being born into the world. From the time of Adam and Eve, mankind has not been in a right relationship with God. To guide the Israelites, God gave them the Law, but man’s right relationship with God would not be reconciled until Jesus, the promised Messiah, would bring about redemption through the Cross. Jesus Himself says many times that He came to fulfill the Law, to bring to fulfillment the righteousness that the Law represented.

In saying to John “Allow it for now . . .” Jesus indicates that even in the great significance of this event, there is more to come. The righteousness of Jesus’ Baptism is the beginning of His mission and “all righteousness” will come to completion on the Cross.

Jesus’ Baptism was the beginning of the fulfillment of “all righteousness.” In pondering the Baptism of Jesus we think of it in the context of the Baptism that John was giving to the people. We often wonder why Jesus had to be baptized, because we know that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and our baptism, Christian Baptism, is a remission of Sin.

We know that Jesus came to bring about Redemption by giving His life as a ransom for all. When God became man, when the “Word became flesh” (cf. John 1:14) he not only took on a human nature, He took on human nature in its entirety. In order to redeem the sins of mankind, He took on human nature, and when Jesus was nailed to the Cross, human nature was nailed to the Cross. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul puts it this way: For our sake [God] made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor 5:21) Although Jesus was without sin, He was made to be sin for our salvation.

If the sins of humanity were lifted up on the Cross with Jesus, the sins of humanity also went down into the waters of the Jordan with Jesus. Jesus was Baptized to cleanse humanity in preparation for the “fulfillment of all righteousness” on the Cross. The work of Redemption began with Jesus’ Baptism. With His Baptism He began his mission and his mission was a mission of Redemption.

In our own baptism, through the gift of faith, we accept the Redemption that Jesus accomplished for us. We are initiated into Christ, into His life and mission. By becoming members of the Body of Christ we become members of His Church.

As Christians, baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His Baptism, His life, His death, and ultimately His Resurrection.

Jesus lived the life of a human being, and from the time of His Baptism, He did the work of the Father, which is the work of Salvation. In our baptism we enter into the same life and mission. We live our lives in much the same way that Jesus lived His life, and we are called to do the will and the work of God the Father and to participate in the work of Redemption through the Sacraments, through prayer, through personal suffering and through corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Through our baptism we enter into the Christian life. But it is not a passive life. We are called to an active life, living in the light of Christ, working in the world to push back the darkness and to bring the light of Christ to those who live in darkness.

Today, in celebrating the Baptism of the Lord, we are renewed in our own baptism. We make the transition from a time of waiting in Advent and the arrival of the Lord at Christmas to a time of living out our life in Christ. Today we are renewed in our baptismal promises to live and work with the Lord in the world. Today we enter into the Ordinary Time of our lives.

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – January 17, 2021

Readings: 1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19  Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10  1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20  Jn 1:35-42  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/011721.cfm

Behold, the Lamb of God.” This is a comforting phrase. It may be the most comforting verse in Scripture, although that is saying a lot. Why is it comforting? Because it speaks to our heart. St. Thomas Aquinas, in many ways, tells us that human nature has an intrinsic desire for God. He derives this from his theology of the soul. Of the noble faculties of the soul is the intellect, and the will. The intellect is constantly seeking what is true and the will is constantly seeking what is good. Together they (we) respond to those things that match this desire in both ways. When something is true, it isn’t necessarily good, but when something is good I can’t imagine it not being true.

One could say that the perceived love that someone has for you is good, but it could turn out to be a false perception. Even so, initially it is good because it affects you toward the good. So yes, something could be good, at least temporarily, without being true. When something is both actually true and actually good in itself, our heart, our soul responds by leaning toward it, by seeking it. So when we hear the proclamation “Behold the Lamb of God,” our heart responds with warmth and affection.

In today’s Gospel there are four phrases that warrant our reflection on how they were received by the disciples and correspondingly how we receive them. The first, “Behold the Lamb of God” then “What are you looking for?; “Come and you will see,” and finally “We have found the Messiah.” These phrases in succession depict the progression of discipleship.

Following up on the above, when the disciples hear John the Baptist say, “Behold the Lamb of God,” there is no hesitation. There is no discussion or consideration of what it means or how they were to respond. Instead the Gospel says, “the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.” Their immediate response was triggered by their heart. Being faithful Jews they were aware of the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God connected two articles of the Jewish faith, the coming of the Messiah and a lamb as the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The Messiah as the long-awaited savior of Israel and the ritual sacrifices were not thought of as the being synonymous. But now, hearing Jesus proclaimed as the Lamb of God, to their hearts it meant salvation through the forgiveness of sins. This caused their immediate response because it fulfilled the ultimate desire of their heart. Their soul responded to this as true and good.

For us it is the same. Through catechesis and devotion we already know that Jesus is the our Savior and through the Mercy of God, He offers us forgiveness of our sins. In hearing this wonderful phrase, “Behold the Lamb of God,” whether during Mass or in reading the Gospel, it is a reminder to us and a refreshment to our soul that he is the fulfillment of the desire of our heart. We respond as they did, by turning toward Jesus and following Him as Christian disciples.

What are you looking for?

This is a question that we know Jesus knew the answer to. It brings to mind another question from Scripture. In Genesis, when God returns to the garden after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, He asks Adam, “Where are you?” With this question God is calling Adam to consider what his relationship to God is now. “Where are you,” what is the situation that you find yourself in now? Likewise when Jesus asks the two disciples “What are you looking for?” He is bringing to their awareness that He is what they are looking for. With this question Jesus connects the response or their heart to their consciousness. He is saying, “what is the situation you find yourself in now?” Consideration of their new situation begins their discipleship: to learn from the Master and to follow Him.

Likewise, this Gospel reminds us that we are to make every effort to learn from Jesus through prayer and devotion, through the sacraments and further catechesis and adult formation. And the more we learn about Him and His promise of salvation, the more we want to follow Him in his mission in acclaiming salvation to others. We evangelize, not only by telling others about Christ in order that they might make a rational decision to become Christian or a better Christian, but to bring them to a closer relationship with Christ, through an awareness of Christ as the fulfillment of their heart’s desire.

Come and you will see

In response to the disciples’ question, “Where are you staying?” Jesus says, “Come and you will see.” He is not saying merely come and you will see where I am staying; He is saying by following Him “they will see.” Their eyes will be opened to who He is and what His mission is. Although they may not have realized the essence of the question at that moment, soon after their brief time with Jesus (“they stayed with Him that day”), they began “to see” what He is all about and what their role will become as His disciple.

We, as Christians, follow Him and our role as disciples becomes more clear, we “come and see” along the way of our lives as Christians who He is and what our participation is in His mission.

We have found the Messiah

Although the disciples call out to Him as “Rabbi” they “come to see” that He is more than that. After they spend time with Him, their hearts move them out to find others and tell them the good news. Andrew went to Simon, but he did not say, “We have found a new Rabbi”; he went to Simon to reveal to him that they had found “what they were looking for.”

When we have been told who Christ is through our catechesis and sacramental life, the response of our heart is to tell others about Christ and His promise of salvation. The ultimate reality of this goes beyond a proclamation of liberation from the troubles of this life. Jesus does not promise prosperity and an easy life, He says, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage; I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) Elsewhere He says, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)

As Christians on a mission, we have been hated by the world for 2000 years. Persecution and martyrdom are part of the package. Rather, Jesus gives us the good news when He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” No, our salvation is not a worldly liberation, but for us who have “faith in God,” and “also faith in [Christ],” as Christians our salvation is to have a dwelling place in the Father’s house. Just as Jesus says to Pilate, “My Kingdom does not belong to this world,” (John 18:36) likewise neither does the Father’s house, nor our salvation.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world,

Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

 

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – January 24, 2021

Readings: Jon 3:1-5, 10  Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9  1 Cor 7:29-31  Mk 1:14-20  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012421.cfm

In last week’s readings the theme was a calling to discipleship. Young Samuel is called by God, and Samuel responds by saying, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist announces Jesus as the Lamb of God, and two of his disciples turn and follow Jesus. In the former, God calls Samuel directly; in the latter the calling is a calling of the heart. Samuel was already serving God by being an acolyte of the priest Eli. The two disciples of John the Baptist were already in a preliminary discipleship. These, you could say, were a calling of the righteous. Yet in the Second Reading last week, St. Paul is calling us to turn away from a material life, a life dominated by the body, an immoral life to a life of the Holy Spirit through whom our bodies have become a temple. There is a noticeable distinction between a calling of the righteous and a calling of sinners. St. Paul’s preaching of repentance, however, connects us to today’s readings, of which the primary theme is repentance, a calling of sinners.

Jonah is sent by God to Nineveh to preach a warning of their looming destruction. The people of Nineveh repent and God relents in his just anger. St. Paul is preaching the coming of a new way of life, a turning away from a worldly life which is “passing away,” to a life beyond this worldly life, which tends toward sinfulness. The preaching of Jonah and the preaching of Paul are a calling of repentance, but not merely a turning away from sin to virtue, but doing so in preparation for something beyond this life, preparation for the coming life which virtue leads us to. In today’s Gospel Jesus is more specific in proclaiming that new life as “the kingdom of God.”

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This was the message John the Baptist was sent to preach and his baptizing was a “baptism of repentance.” John was sent to “prepare the way of the Lord;” a mission of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. “After John was arrested,” Jesus takes up this preaching mission with the same message as John, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” John is preparing for the coming of the Lord, Jesus is proclaiming the coming of The Kingdom. Does this mean that Jesus is the Kingdom? Is Jesus prophesying God’s Kingdom as a realm to come? Yes, both.

In baptism preparation we speak of being “baptized into Christ,” and initiation “into the Church.” Here again we see the overlapping phenomenon of the Kingdom of God; Christ and the Kingdom of God are one. The Church, as the Bride of Christ, is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is proclaimed throughout the four Gospels. In Matthew it is referred to as “the kingdom of heaven.” This is because Matthew was preaching primarily to Jewish converts, and under Jewish law it was forbidden to speak the name of God, Yahweh [Yhwh], except on the Day of Atonement, when it was spoken by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.

So what is the hermeneutic of “the Kingdom of God?” In the Lord’s prayer we pray “. . . Thy Kingdom come,” which seems to imply the Kingdom is not yet. In the naïveté of our early catechesis, it seemed obvious that the Kingdom of God is heaven. When we die we go to heaven, we enter the Kingdom of God. Matthew’s reference reinforces this. The Kingdom of God is mentioned 48 times in Matthew, 17 times in Mark, 33 times in Luke, and 2 times in John. Sometimes in future tense, sometimes in present tense.

If we look back at the original preaching of John and Jesus, we may find the key to its hermeneutic. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This can and has been thought of as “near,” the Kingdom of God is near. In Mark (12:34) Jesus says to the rich young man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Even with this it seems that “it is near.” In Matthew (12:28) and Luke (11:20) Jesus says “the Kingdom of God has come upon you,” in Matt (21:31) Jesus tells the chief priests and the elders that “prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you,” and again in Luke (17:21) He says the Kingdom of God “is among you.” Here we are beginning to hear of the Kingdom of God as, not only near but here, in the present.

When Jesus tells the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God “is among you,” he puts it in a curious context: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” Many who were hearing Jesus speak of the Kingdom, including the Apostles, were thinking and hoping that He was speaking of restoring the Kingdom of David to Israel, which was the expectation of an earthly kingdom. In this verse, however, He says it “is among you,” other translations say “in your midst,” but a more important translation is that the Kingdom of God “is within you.” This takes it to a whole different level. The Kingdom cannot be observed as a visible phenomenon, as the rise of Israel as a new kingdom, rather the Kingdom is “within you.” This harkens back to the preaching of Paul that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God.” (1 Cor 6:19) The Kingdom is not an earthly phenomenon but a spiritual one, it cannot be observed but it can be felt as the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Kingdom of God is all these things, past, present and future, but most importantly it is both “in our midst” and “within us.” Jesus, again in Luke, says “The law and the prophets lasted until John; but from then on the kingdom of God is proclaimed.” (Luke 16:16) This, I think, brings it all together. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God into our midst. He came to bring salvation, to institute the Church and the Sacraments. “From then on” the Kingdom spreads as a spiritual phenomenon in the manifestation of the Church in the world through evangelization and within us through Baptism as the Holy Spirit and Sanctifying Grace dwelling in our soul. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we are praying for the continuance of that spiritual growth, in the world and within us; that it continues to come as Jesus brought it.

And so we pray: “Our Father who art in heaven . . .”

 

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – January 31, 2021

Readings: Dt 18:15-20  Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9  1 Cor 7:32-35  Mk 1:21-28  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/013121.cfm

St. Augustine is quoted as saying, “The New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.” As I pondered today’s readings, looking for a theme, I could not shake the notion of prophecy as the theme. These readings sparkle with the connections between prophecy and the fulfillment of the coming of Christ the Messiah. As we look at some of these connections we have to consider, how could anyone not see the fulfillment of Christ in the Gospels.

Let’s begin with the dialogue between Moses and the Lord regarding the message Moses is to give to the Israelites.

Moses: “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you  from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” (Dt 18:15)

The Lord: “This was well said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” (v18)

Here are three additional connections (not in today’s readings). One, a reiteration in Psalm 80; second, the Father’s voice at the Transfiguration; then Jesus’ words of the great commission to the Apostles at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.

May your hand be on the man you have chosen, the man you have given your strength. And we shall never forsake you again: give us life that we may call upon your name. (Ps 80:18-19)

Then from the cloud came a voice which said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” (Lk 9:35)

“All authority has been given to me, both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. . . Teach them to carry out all I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:17b, 19a, 20a)

These are a primary prophecy, and the identification and mission of Christ. He is the chosen one of The Lord, he is to be listened to, which is a direct connection to Moses message, and all that he was commanded by the Father, He passes on to his disciples.

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. In Psalm 95 this is a caution, a caution that when you see the fulfillment of the prophecies, recognize them for what they are. A warning, of sorts, from the Psalmist to the faithful, then and now.

Similarly, St. Paul’s exhortation to the people of Corinth is a harkening to recognize the times they are living in; the time of salvation. It is for their “own benefit” and they are not to be distracted or fail to recognize the time.

In another context is the “Canticle of Zechariah”:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David.” (Lk 1:68-69)

In today’s Gospel Jesus can be recognized, indirectly, as the Christ.

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.

The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. Then after he had driven out the demon, the people ask, “What is this, a new teaching with authority?” (Mk 1:27) Here Jesus is exercising two forms of authority, although from the same source: the authority to teach, an authority of truth, from the Father, and an authority of power, an authority that is efficacious. A power that drives out demons, which is one of many “signs and wonders,” miracles performed by Jesus throughout the Gospels. Power that can only further identify him as “the chosen one of God.”

In the book of Deuteronomy, which is a re-telling of the stories and the law, and brings the five books of the Torah to a close, itself closes with this lamentation: “Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (Deut 34:10)

In the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus raises the son of the widow of Naim, the people praised God saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us . . . God has visited his people.” (Lk 7:16)

Then finally, we should look at the Prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. . . He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” (Jn 1:1, 14, 11)

In closing this reflection, or what could be called a brief study of prophecy, we hear this sad affirmation: “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” Looking back at the dialogue between God and Moses, the Lord says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin.” Although many of “his own people” recognized Jesus as the Christ, which was the beginning of Christianity, many did not. Throughout these 2000 years, as close as Judaism is to Christianity (as they are our elder brothers), there is still this great chasm which will only be resolved “at the end of time,” when the Messiah will come for the Messianic people of “his own,” and as “the Second Coming” for the Messianic people of the Church.

Deacon Peter Trahan, MATh About Deacon Peter Trahan, MATh

Ordained in 2008 to the Archdiocese of Miami; MA Theology from The Augustine Institute, Denver, CO; Master Catechist with the Archdiocese and Coordinator of Adult Faith Formation at St. Bonaventure Parish. Member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.

Comments

  1. Avatar Sr Ann Claire Rhoads ,DC says:

    Clear and beautiful theology…. thanks!

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