1st Reading – Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Jeremiah the prophet wrote this just after the northern kingdom (Israel) was conquered by the Assyrians but before the Babylonian exile. Jeremiah was actually a prophet from the southern kingdom (Judah). It was a time of destruction and confusion. There was a deep desire for a king from the Davidic line. In the ending of the book of Jeremiah as we have it, the future of the monarchy is open, continuation possible but not assured. Christian readers may read into this passage that it is a foreshadowing of Jesus. In actuality, Jeremiah and his audience were looking for a more immediate solution to their problem, (An Intro to the Old Testament, Brueggemann, 188). And yet, they hold on with great hope. How does this reading both comfort and challenge us this Advent? What do you make of, “The Lord our justice”?
Semah saddiq or ‘just shoot,’ also rendered as ‘righteous branch’ and/or ‘legitimate heir,’ had become a classic prophetic term for the messiah, the anointed one. Because of this promised shoot, a renewed Jerusalem would be renamed Yahweh Sidqenu, ‘The Lord, our Justice’. This new name for the capital city is a play on the name of Zedekiah, Judah’s king, a weak and vacillating man, whose reign had resulted in disaster for his people. However, under the rule of the just shoot of David, the new Jerusalem or Yahweh Sidqenu would flourish in peace and justice (Preaching Resources, 2003, 514).
2nd Reading — 1 Thessalonians 3: 12 – 4:2
This is the oldest New Testament piece of writing, dating from about
50-51 AD. It is the beginning of Christian literature. Paul’s preaching and the belief of Jesus caused so much unrest and turmoil in this city that Paul was forced to leave. He later writes this letter to his new community. In the midst of difficult times, what is Paul’s message? What is the message to us this Advent? How does this reading compare to our 1st reading?
The Gospel – Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
How is this gospel ‘good news’ for you? What words from this passage are most meaningful to you at this time?
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said when asked about the future coming of Christ:
“The future is not in our hands. We have no power over it. We can act only today. We, the Missionaries of Charity, have a sentence we try to take to heart: ‘We will allow the good God to make plans for the future — for yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come and we have only today to make God known, loved, served.’ So we do not worry about the future.”
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 2000:
Fearful living is not faithful living! While these readings may seem unnerving, they are meant to offer us hope – even in the midst of disaster. Jesus assures us that our salvation is at hand. ‘Be not afraid’ is one of the most oft-repeated pieces of advice in the New Testament. With Jesus, we have nothing to fear, even when our boat is rocking in a violent storm.
From Living Liturgy, 2004:
We are told to ‘stand before the Son of Man.” This is an image of such an intimacy with Jesus that he has already come for us – is present to us. This unity and intimacy comes from prayer; it is our source of strength. Such vigilance does involve a type of dying; it is the paschal mystery. Our focus cannot be only on our own wants and needs. We need to unite our desires to the presence of Christ in our lives. We need to pray to recognize Christ in others and to grow in this likeness ourselves. There is a dying and a rising to all of this.
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 2006:
During this season of busy-ness and “Jingle-Bell” tunes, let us keep our focus clear. Advent is about the coming of Christ – in the past, in the future, but even more so in the right-now. Justice is coming! Love is on its way! Don’t miss it!
Fr. Bob’s Christ the King homily…
Christ the King B
The Gospel stops short of the best line. After Jesus speaks of truth, Pilate responds, “What is truth?” It is an important and current question. Back in seminary, I took some young people to our Good Friday service, and as John’s passion was read and Pilate dramatically intoned “What is truth?” one of the young people looked at me and smiled and shrugged. He had a point and it has only become harder since then to answer the question.
So let us wade into what Stephen Colbert called “truthiness.” There are a few aspects to consider. First there is objective truth – that in reality something is what it is. If I say this is a chair, I expect everyone to know it is a chair. It is the basis for communication. Some questions are harder such as “Is Jesus God?” We have an answer for…
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1st Reading – Daniel 12: 1-3
The book of Daniel is apocalyptic, the 4th of the major prophets. It is filled with dreams and visions that reveal coming events. This kind of writing is called a vaticinium ex eventu, a “prediction after the fact,” in which an author creates a character of long ago (Daniel) and puts into his mouth as predictions all the important events that have already happened right up to the author’s own time and place (about 165 BC). It is actually written by an unknown person. Antiochus Epiphanes of the Seleucid empire in Syria ruled of Palestine around 175 BC. He stripped the temple twice of its wealth to fund military campaigns. To encourage unity, he demanded Hellenization (follow the Greek ways) which devastated the Jewish people. A small revolt in 167 began a constant struggle for religious freedom and political independence. So all of this colors what Daniel is trying to say (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 503-509).
Apocalyptic writing usually has these elements:
- Famous names
- Prophetic prediction
- Confidence in divine intervention
- Cosmic viewpoint
- Use of intermediary beings such as angels and demons
- Old prophecies being fulfilled
- Hope in the resurrection of the dead
- Hope in a glorious new kingdom in heaven or on earth (p. 513-514)
The words, “At that time” are repeated in this passage. The emphasis it gives should not be overlooked. It is calling everyone to the present…right now. What happens right in this moment makes a difference. Your life can change for better or worse in an instant. How does this emphasis on NOW matter to you?
A word on the angel Michael: He was thought to have fought and defeated Lucifer. His name means, “Who is like God?” Whereas men and women have bodies and souls, angels are pure spirits. They were created before humankind, and they are capable of sin (Catholicism for Dummies, p. 306). Some are sent to guard over people. Have you felt like you had a guardian angel in times of distress?
2nd Reading – Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18
From Roland Faley, Footprints on the Mountain: The standing posture of the priests in their endless work contrasts with the seated posture of Jesus whose work has been realized. The sitting position, symbolizing work accomplished, is not at odds with the high priest image which depicts Christ as continually offering his one sacrifice in the eternal ‘now’. The two are complementary, not exclusive. Christ’s one sacrifice continues to make holy those who appropriate its benefits. With sin now forgiven and ready access to God assured, no further sacrifice is needed. Isn’t this good news?
Every day at Temple, morning and evening, the priests would offer a burnt offering of a 1 year old lamb without blemish, a meat offering of flour and oil, a drink offering of wine, and incense. Did they make a difference? What Jesus offered as himself could not be repeated. He offered his whole self as living sacrifice (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 117). How do we offer ourselves daily?
The Gospel — Mark 13: 24-32:
From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, B, 164:
Mark’s Jesus is absolutely convinced that everything he has announced will occur during the lifetime of his audience. Jesus died around 30CE and the temple was destroyed in 70CE. These were certainly difficult, frightening, changing times. The audience needs certainty that better times are ahead (so do we!). They need something to count on. By saying ”Amen, I say to you…” it guarantees the truth of what one says. Jesus is saying, “Trust me! I speak the truth and won’t fail you no matter what!” This is more good news.
The cosmic events (sun darkening, stars falling) are entirely and exclusively under God’s control. How does it feel to allow God to take the wheel completely?
From Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 726, 730-731: The ‘fig tree’ had been a common symbol for Israel. Jesus uses this idea and then changes it to become a symbol of the new kingdom of God. Here in Mark 13 the fig tree is blossoming as opposed to its withering in Mark 11. For these early Christians, as followers of Christ, the religious world that they knew was over. They can no longer be centered around the Temple. Jesus’ new kingdom of God’s love was and is ready to emerge. Jesus’ words do not pass away; through Jesus, the Word of God, and his cross, the powers of domination will be defeated. Mark calls all disciples “to live in history with eyes open, to look deep into present events.” The fig tree that seemed dead will be blossoming again. The old world, centered around the Temple, was coming to an end, but Jesus’ new world was emerging. It still is.
The trick to understanding these readings is to not to reduce them to an historical period. We must let them speak to every historical time and place – even our own. After all, the end times happen to us all, individually at our death and communally as a generation that passes into the midst of disappearing ages . . . As our projects and pretenses mount, as our labors and tasks surround us, as our entertainment and doodling pass the time . . . we may forget that the upshot of our lives is to love and evoke love, no matter where we may be–living and dying. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
From Ronald Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :
Perhaps Jesus is not so much talking about cosmic cataclysms as cataclysms of the heart. Sometimes it is our inner world that is shaken, turned upside down, and darkened. But in this upheaval, only one thing that remains: God’s Word of love and fidelity. When our world is shaken, we have the chance to see more clearly, to grow more authentically, to love more unselfishly. Honeymoons are wonderful, but we do need to love what is real what is beyond the pleasant. God’s love leads us to reality, to bedrock, to truth beyond illusion. Jesus is NEAR, he is at the gates, his words stay with us.
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
When Jesus is asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” he does not strain to find an answer. He responds with the scripture that was inside the doorpost of every house, worn in a pendant on heads and prayed every day. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” It literally surrounded Jesus and every day. But he then adds a second scripture from Leviticus and elevates it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Now love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably linked. And it seems obvious as to why. If you love God you should love all that has been created.
That is why it is so painful when the law of love of neighbor is violated. It undercuts all we believe…
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From New American Bible, St. Joseph’s Edition Commentary:
- This letter is addressed to 3 individuals: Philemon, Apphia (his wife?) and Acchippus (a friend?).
- It was written by Paul during imprisonment, maybe in Rome between AD 61 & 63.
- Onesimus is a slave from Colossae who had run away, maybe guilty of theft. He converts. There is an Onesimus who becomes bishop of Ephesus…the same? (Brown sites the reference being in a letter that Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Ephesians, “in the person of Onesimus, a man of love beyond recounting and your bishop.” Eph 1:3 Brown wonders if it was Onesimus himself who preserved this letter.)
- Paul’s letters tend to have a greeting, a note of thanks, the body or main point and final greetings.
- The name Onesimus means “useful”, so it is a play on words.
From Reading the New Testament by Pheme Perkins:
- This author suggests it was written more towards Paul’s imprisonment at Ephesus, which would be closer to AD 52-54.
From Introducing the New Testament by Mark Allan Powell:
- Slaves could be beaten, could not legally marry and any children were master’s property. They were the bottom of the social pyramid. No honor. BUT, there was a range in their treatment. They could be doing hard labor or in charge of finances.
- The reference to “old man” could refer to chronological age or his status as elder. Presebytes stood for “old man” but presbeutes stood for “ambassador”.
From An Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond Brown:
- Many became slaves in different ways – taken in war, kidnapped by slave huntersm enslaved through debt or perhaps born into slavery.
- Brown hints that Philemon probably did act generously toward Onesimus or else the letter would not have been preserved.
- Brown also illustrates the various sides that are taken in how Paul handles slavery. Some interpreters feel he lacked nerve because he didn’t outright condemn it, or call Philemon out on it. Others think his delicate way of handling it was smart, because Paul otherwise may have seemed a troubler of the social order and a revolutionary. Brown’s theory is that Paul (and the believers at the time) thought Jesus was coming back at any minute. So to overturn the Roman societal institution of slavery was not a feasible accomplishment for such a theorized, limited amount of time.
Read the Letter and Review Reflection Questions
- What do you think of how Paul handled slavery?
- How do you feel about church (Paul) stepping in in order to resolve this societal dilemma? How does the church do this today?
- How is Paul’s attitude and treatment of Onesimus similar to Christ’s treatment of us believers?
- How would you have handled this situation?
- The division between slaves and free people were immense. We still have grave division in our country among people. What can we learn from Paul?