In John’s Gospel, hostility exists between Jesus and the Jews from the very beginning of his public ministry. This is probably a reflection of the situation in which John’s community finds itself: that of being excluded from the practice of Judaism after Christians had been ousted from synagogue worship. We should not, therefore, read this text as a criticism by Jesus of Judaism generally. If we read this text only as an example of Jesus’ righteous anger over the greed of those who controlled commerce in the temple precinct, we miss much of the point that John is making. The Jews believed that the offering of sacrifice to God in the temple was a central part of their religious observance. Jesus now brings that practice to an end. He speaks of his own body as the new temple, the new centre of worship. Effectively, Jesus is reinterpreting the religious traditions of the Jews to centre on himself. He becomes the physical embodiment of ‘my Father’s house’. He’s the living temple of the Father’s presence among us.
In the biblical tradition, a mountain is often used as the setting for close encounters between God and his people. In this text, Jesus’ appearance takes on the imagery of the divine. Those who join Jesus are significant: Moses was the receiver of the Law, and Elijah was the first prophet. Here the Law and the Prophets, the fullness of Scripture, meet Jesus transfigured. Understandably, the disciples are terrified, and Peter suggests they build three tents. This would allow them to remain on the mountain and contemplate the face of God. But this is to misunderstand the true call of the disciple. Gazing heavenwards is not enough; the disciple must also listen and act. The mystery of this response will only become clear when placed in the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus. There can be no side-stepping of the cross and its invitation to all who are followers of Jesus that they too must loose themselves for the sake of others. How do you understand the divinity of Jesus? When you contemplate the face of Christ, what do you see?
The Baptist had promised that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit, and at his baptism the Holy Spirit had descended on him. Now that same Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. He is not the master of his own destiny. He is the object of the action of God. There is no murmur of opposition to this. Jesus accepts God’s Spirit and God’s will. As a consequence, the harmony of creation is restored and Jesus ‘is with’ the wild beasts. It is a fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah that ‘the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and fatling together’ (Isaiah 11:6–7). The new creation has begun in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Indeed, he proclaims that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. But Jesus also summons his followers to repent and believe the Good News. Lent is a time to listen attentively to the Gospel and to turn back to the ways of the Father. It is a time for us to consider how close we are to the Kingdom of God. What is ‘good’ for you at this point about the Good News of Jesus Christ? Jesus heralds the new creation. What would be the perfect world for you? Describe what might be different from our present reality in the Kingdom of God. How can you help to bring this about? What tempts you away from the Good News?
This is yet another confrontation between Jesus and evil. In recent gospels, we have seen Jesus overcome possessing demons, sickness and social taboos; many of the themes merge in this text. The leper takes an audacious step in approaching Jesus, defying all the rules and conventions of his society. Despite his exclusion and isolation, he has not lost hope. Jesus reacts in exactly the opposite way from that which may be expected. He is moved by pity not revulsion. Instead of sending the man away, he responds with immense compassion to the man’s courage and faith. He reaches out and touches him. This is not only an act of ritual impurity but of human foolhardiness! Not wanting to be known only as a miracle worker, Jesus orders the leper not to speak of his cure but to undergo the necessary rituals to enable him to re-enter the people of Israel. The priest should be able to recognise that in the cure of the leper, the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled and the Messiah is among them. The great irony is that by curing the leper and allowing his re-entry into the community, Jesus places himself in a position where he is forced to go out into isolation in places where no one lived.
In touching Simon’s mother-in-law and then allowing her to serve him, Jesus is breaking down traditional barriers. He brings wholeness and holiness to her by his presence. The kingdom of God cannot tolerate prejudice and taboo, just as sickness and evil have no place in the kingdom. This text shows us a typical day for Jesus—the first of his ministry. He listens to the Word of God, then worships with his community; he relaxes in the home of a friend; he pursues his work of healing and preaching and, before dawn, he withdraws alone to develop his relationship with the Father through prayer. There is a wonderful pattern of balance here between prayer, work and rest. When the disciples find him, they want him to return to Capernaum to the acclaim he is receiving. Instead, Jesus insists that the boundaries of the kingdom be pushed out. The kingdom of God must reach further and further. It is for this that he came!
This is the first of the miracles of Jesus recounted in Mark’s Gospel and it is a significant introduction to the person of Jesus and the power he possesses. Only a few verses earlier, at his baptism, Jesus had been revealed as the beloved Son of God. In this short text, Mark contrasts Jesus and the authority of his teaching with that of the scribes. Jesus teaches in such a way that he makes a deep impression on his hearers. Clearly, this is because his authority and his wisdom come from God. While his human audience may still be unclear as to the true identity of Jesus, this is not the case with his ‘other-worldly’ audience: the unclean spirits know exactly who Jesus is—the Holy One of God—and they recognise his authority and obey his command. They know that the power of the Almighty is greater than the power of the evil one.
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?