Readings for this liturgical year are from Year B
Should you wish to view the Scripture Readings for Daily Mass (Australian Liturgical Calendar) please visit: https://www.universalis.com/australia.melbourne/1000/
Navigate the texts of the week ahead via the right-hand column index.
26th / 27th December, 2020 – The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph.
Readings: – Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2:22-40.
Friday, 1st January, 2021 Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (St Agnes’ 9am Mass)
Readings: Num 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21.
2nd / 3rd January, 2021 – The Epiphany of the Lord
Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3, 5-6; Mt 2:1-12.
9th /10th January, 2021 – The Baptism of the Lord
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mk 1:7-11.
16th / 17th January, 2021 – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Sam 3:3-10,19, 5-6; 1 Cor 6:13-15,17,20; Jn 1:35-42.
23rd / 25th January, 2021 – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10, 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20.
Annunciation stories are an established literary form. There are a number of such stories in the Hebrew Scriptures—for example, the births of Isaac, Samson and Samuel— and, of course, Luke has already recorded the annunciation of John the Baptist. The purpose of the annunciation story is to let the reader know what role the person whose birth is announced will play in salvation history. In this sense, they are a literary device rather than a strictly historical narrative, although clearly based on ancient memory. In the annunciation of the birth of Jesus, however, there are elements that surpass all other annunciation stories. The emphasis is on the creative action of the Holy Spirit and on Mary’s cooperation with God’s will, and it establishes Jesus’ transcendental origins. The role that the child to be born is to play in salvation history is defined in terms of Davidic messiahship, and on this last Sunday of Advent, we stand on the brink of the fulfilment of the promise made to Mary of messianic hope for the world. The tension of the waiting of Advent is almost over. Do you ever wonder why God has chosen you and set you on this journey of the catechumenate? Where do you think this journey will ultimately lead you?
In contrast to last week’s text on John the Baptist, this one comes from the last of the written gospels. The Gospel of John was penned at the very end of the first century. One common characteristic, however, is clear: the Baptist is again presented as the forerunner. John the Baptist rejects all messianic or quasi-messianic titles. He throws human expectation into chaos. He claims for himself only the role of the ‘voice’ of Isaiah 40, but the evangelist presents him as the most reliable of witnesses, ‘Sent by God … to speak for the light’. The only other person in John’s Gospel to come from God is Jesus himself. Before an audience of the leaders of the religion of Israel, John witnesses with an authority and a truthfulness that has its source in God. In what ways can you speak with authority about Jesus? What truths have you come to recognise about Jesus? How do you give witness to Christ?
The prophet Isaiah brought a message of hope and comfort to the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon. Despite their failings, God is ever merciful and has promised them a new beginning. John the Baptist appears in the line of the great prophet, and again promises Israel the chance of a new beginning if they repent and turn again towards God. The emphasis in Mark’s portrait of John the Baptist is very much that of the subordinate. John’s self-effacing manner makes it clear that he is not the one who is promised, but the one who is to prepare the way. The emphasis in John’s preaching is on judgment; for Jesus it is on the reign of God and salvation. Advent is also a time of new beginnings, and John the Baptist’s ‘voice in the wilderness’ is a personal invitation to each of us to prepare a way for the Lord into our lives now. What special preparation for Christmas will you undertake this year? How may this be different from what you have done in the past?
During Advent, in each year of the three-year cycle, the theme of the first week looks to the end times—the eschaton—with an emphasis on the second coming of Jesus and the need to be ready. In the early church, there was an expectation that Jesus would return quickly. In their post-Easter faith, believers knew that Jesus had been taken up to heaven at the ascension (a man travelling abroad, as mentioned in this gospel?) and that he was remaining with God until the time came for him to return in triumph. For Mark, it is now the church that waits and must remain always ready to greet the master on his return. The ‘waiting’ theme of Advent is established: we await the birth of the child and we await the fulfilment of human history at the end times when Jesus comes again.
Over the last few weeks, the gospel texts have dealt with issues of being prepared, staying ready, and using our gifts well. In some ways, all these themes culminate in today’s text. This gospel presents us with the bottom line! Are we judged worthy of a place in the kingdom? The criteria for being judged worthy are very clear—it is how we have served those most in need. This is what will count. If we do not see Christ in our brothers and sisters in need, then our faith is blind and will not lead to the kingdom. There is another aspect of this gospel that should not be overlooked. It is the apocalyptic vision of the Son of Man coming in glory and reigning over all the nations as King. To the King belongs the right of judgement and reward or punishment. While Matthew’s community was in the ‘in-between’ time, the evangelist held before them the central truth that the Son of Man, the King, will come again in his glory as judge.
In this week’s gospel, Matthew develops the theme of what it means to be living in the in-between time. The Master has given the servants ‘talents’ and on his return they will be judged according to how they have used those talents and whether they have followed his instructions. A talent was a standard measure of currency in the Near East, and a very large sum indeed. In fact, each servant has been given a treasure. Two perform well, but the third is paralysed by the fear of taking a risk and hides his talent away. His excuse is that he knew his master was an exacting man and so he refused even to try. He condemns himself by not responding to the demands of the master. This gospel challenges us to drop our false notion of God as an exacting master, to appreciate the gifts we have been given, and to use and develop them for our good and the good of others.
As the public ministry of Jesus draws to a close, Matthew introduces the themes of delay and the need to be ready for the second coming of Christ. Matthew’s community were living in the ‘in-between’ times. Christ’s victory over death through his resurrection had begun a new phase in history, but it was not yet complete. Completion would only come with his return in glory. We again hear the familiar imagery of the messianic banquet or wedding feast to which all are invited. But only those who live with an attitude of openness, expectation and readiness will be welcomed into the great hall. This parable speaks strongly of the need to live in the present with an eye to the future. We cannot live only for the ‘now’ with no thought for our ultimate goal, nor can we ignore the sufferings and responsibilities of the present and set our hearts only on heaven.
This great celebration of All Saints has a rich and beautiful tradition within the Church. It honours those who have died, it serves to remind us that we are part of the wider communion of God’s holy people, and it affirms our faith in God’s loving fidelity to life. There’s no doubt about the importance of Jesus’ Beatitudes as far as Matthew is concerned. It is the overture to the first of the five discourses that he gives to Jesus in memory of the five books of the Torah. The Beatitudes are steeped in the tradition that Jesus absorbed from his family and townsfolk as he grew up. At the same time they open out on to a new future. Past wisdom and future promise combine in these paradoxical sayings whose meaning we can never exhaust.
This is the final public encounter between Jesus and his enemies in Matthew’s Gospel. They are seeking to expose his lack of professional knowledge of the Scriptures or to trap him into giving more weight to one of the Ten Commandments, which are viewed as equally important. Jesus cuts the ground from under them. No one could argue with his answer! But if the dual command of love was present in the Jewish Law, what new thing did Jesus bring? His originality places love of God and love of neighbour together. It is not possible to love God and despise people. God and the human situation are intimately interwoven. This is shown most perfectly in the person of Jesus himself: Son of Man and Son of God; fully human and fully divine. Followers of Jesus must also embody the dual commandment of love. Do you find it easier to love God or love other people? Are there ways you can make your response to the great commandment more balanced?