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Third Monday of Advent: The Coming of Our King

Monday, December 16, 2013
Readings: Num. 24: 2-7,15-17A; Mt. 21: 23-27

Christ before the High Priest.

In today's Gospel Jesus is challenged to justify to men his teaching, miracles and works; 'by what authority do you do these things?' ask the Chief priests and elders of Jerusalem.

This question is in itself of some interest, though it's not obvious. When a man shows up and performs unquestionably amazing deeds very few people are prone to ask 'who gave you the right to do this?' Rather we tend to inquire somewhere along the lines of  'who are you?' Or 'where do you come from?' Indeed, earlier in the Gospel men, upon hearing Jesus's teaching, ask 'is this not the carpenter's son?' (Mt. 13:55). So, what can be made of the chief priests' concern, not for Jesus's provenance but for the identity of the one who sent him?

Baptism of St. John.
On one level it implies a recognition of a kind of legitimacy. The priests recognise that someone with jurisdiction permitted Jesus to act as he did. St. John Chrysostom identified two powers at work in the world, that of God and that of Satan. So who sent Jesus? Christ had answered this question before, in the twelfth chapter of this Gospel the Lord asked that if Satan cast out Satan, how could his kingdom stand? On the other hand, if it was by the spirit of God that he cast out demons, then, he said, 'the kingdom of God is upon you.' (Mt. 12:26-28)

When Jesus addressed the issue of the devil he wasn't answering a question, rather he responded to thoughts he perceived. This isn't surprising, if you ask an agent of the deceiver if they are in fact an agent of the deceiver; we know what answer you'll get!

So, it's plausible to suppose that the Jews knew, at least implicitly, who they were talking to. What they were seeking, perhaps unconsciously, was some kind of confirmation of their fears. Further evidence of this appears in the way Christ responded to their inquiry: was John's baptism of heavenly or human origin? A question they cannot answer, not because they don't have an opinion but rather because it is not propitious to offer it. Jesus gave the elders a chance to speak plainly, but what is made plain is their duplicitous nature. In another place he says, again in regard to questions of his provenance, 'it is my Father who glorifies me... If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you' (John 8: 54-55).

The priests and elders feared the coming of the Christ, perhaps as much as Herod the Great who attempted to kill the prophesied messiah, for the sake of human glories. Yet, these were the holy men of the day. The keepers of the traditions of Israel, the men who sat on the seat of Moses, how could they get things so wrong?
Christ Reigns from a Tree.

Advent is a time for joyful anticipation, as we gather our thoughts and prayers in preparation for rejoicing the incarnation of the Son of God. However, it is also a time for a kind of pious trepidation. Alongside our joy we practise fasting and spiritual examination. Jesus's exposure of the holy men of his day demands that we turn towards him and away from distractions that could blind us to his very presence, it warns us to avoid their mistakes. We recognise in Advent that we are to often too attached to the world and its comforts, we are faced with that most blatant reminder that our King wasn't born in a palace but in a barn, he wasn't carried to a throne but hung upon a tree.

St. John of the Cross tells us that for fellowship with Christ we must walk the way of the cross: let us offer up then what little sacrifices we can, that we might be more like the one who loved us, that we might be better prepared to kneel by the manger forsaking the comfort and pride of our world and its glories.

Jordan Scott OP


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