The commentator on sacred scripture suggests that we ought to make the readings or at least the passage from the first reading today, from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, a part of our prayer every morning. God is saying to us, "See I am doing something new, even now it comes to light, can you not see it?" Isaiah was trying to get the people who were being kept in that terrible captivity in Babylon -- they had been there for many years -- trying to get them not just to remember all the great things that God did in the past. They did that so well, they remembered in their prayers, in their Passover feasts and other feasts, how God had worked such great wonders to free them from Egypt, how God had worked such wonders as they wandered through the desert for 40 years until they came to the promised land. They remembered all those things about how God was so great in the past.
The Peace Pulpit
Since we accept the truth about Jesus, that he is fully human as we are, we can readily understand that he underwent temptations, that the devil could tempt him as we hear in today's gospel. It could be temptations like anyone of us experience, temptations to be dishonest perhaps or temptations to speak something unkindly about another person or temptations to get angry and so on.
[Editor's Note: Jan. 21 was Bishop Thomas Gumbleton's last Mass as pastoral administrator of St. Leo Parish in Detroit. (See note at bottome of this column.) Bishop Gumbleton and NCR are committed to continuing to post the Peace Pulpit. Stay tuned as we work out the details of how to do that now that the bishop does not have a regular pulpit from which to preaching.]
As I mentioned before the first lesson, Isaiah, one of the great prophets in our tradition, proclaimed what truly was only a dream at the time that he spoke and that led me to think about, obviously, one of the very great prophets of our time, Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday and birthday we celebrate this week. As a great prophet, he, too, often proclaimed what was only, at the time, a dream. So I share some of his dream with us again today. These words some of you probably remember were spoken on the Mall in Washington before hundreds of thousands of people in August of 1963 when our nation was caught up in civil strife and racism, hatred, and violence were all happening in a terrible way. Dr. King proclaimed:
For our reflection on the Scriptures today I think it's very important for us to start with the message that we hear from St. Paul where he tells us, "By revelation God gave me the knowledge of God's mysterious design and I have tried to explain this in a few words. On reading them you will have some idea of how I understand the mystery of Christ." Then he goes on to say, "This is the Good News. This is the Good News. Now the non-Jewish people share the inheritance in Christ Jesus. The non-Jews are incorporated and enjoy the promise." The Good News - now that Jesus has come into the world; that God has entered into human history.
As we are all aware, the Scripture lessons that we listen to every week are of course passages that have been written long, long ago. But they are also, as we know, the Word of God and that's always a living Word -- the Word that speaks to us within the context of our own lives, the context of the world in which we live. It's always amazing how current God's words can be. Today as we listen to those words, we obviously -- at least for me and I think for many of us -- listen to them within the context of what is happening within our parish community. So we must listen deeply and carefully to this Word of God today.
The message from today's readings, especially the first two readings, is very clear. God wants us to be joyful, to be filled with joy, and not a joy that's just a passing emotion that comes and goes in a few moments or so, but a joy that is deep, a joy that is lasting and that settles into our spirit. It might seem almost impossible that we could experience such joy, and yet if we listen to those lessons, it's clear that that is what God is telling us -- to be joyful.
I'm sure that all of us have noticed that at times people seem to think that what Jesus taught, what he preached, was not for our time and place, not the real world in which we live -- a world where evil so often seems to have the upper hand, a world where the moral order is shattered, a world where there is hatred, so much violence. The message of Jesus, we think, those values that he taught, they could not be for now. They must be for later, the afterlife. That's when you can really love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you and so on.
It seems pretty clear to me that we need this season of Advent -- a season when we can begin to stir up within our hearts and our spirits a very powerful spirit of hope, a spirit of encouragement, a spirit of joy. This, in fact, is what Advent does bring into our lives -- hope and joy. We need it, I think, at this time especially, because so many people seem to be discouraged with what is going on in the world and what is going on in our church.
We may not have adverted to it, but we should notice that the feast we celebrate today is unusual, even unique I would say, because it's a feast that celebrates one of the titles of Jesus. There's no other feast that does this. We could have, for example, a feast of Jesus the Prophet, or Jesus the Teacher, or Jesus the Shepherd, but we don't do that for reasons that are not totally clear, I guess. We chose the one title that Jesus rejected, and so it's a challenge to reflect on this feast and the scriptures that we have for this feast. And to have drawn forth this truth that is very important for us.