RCIA – The Third Sunday of Advent – The Readings
In the first two readings there is a lot of rejoicing. Why is there so much rejoicing? What are some reasons or situations that are cause for true joy?
In the reading from Zephaniah a sinful people have returned to God, and reconciliation with God is cause for rejoicing, and God rejoices with them. Prior to the rejoicing in Zephaniah, he foretells of God’s punishment of the people, both in Judah and the surrounding nations. Jerusalem is under Babylonian domination when Zephaniah is a preacher to the people. The prophet Zephaniah lived in the time of the Jewish king, Josiah around 640 B.C. Josiah was perhaps the greatest king to follow David. Tradition tells us that the ancient Biblical texts of Moses, the Code of Law, were found in the temple during his reign. Josiah realized that his people had deviated from the original Law. He instituted a reform to get the people to conform their lives to the Law. Only through their faithfulness could the Jewish people be assured that Yahweh’s blessing would be theirs. The theme of Zephaniah’s preaching was the coming of the Lord, the day he would vindicate all injustices against the people. It would be a day of great celebration, no more oppression, Jerusalem would be a city of great power, and Yahweh would once again rule creation. But, that day and all of its joy would not be realized unless the people were purified from their rebellious and idolatrous behavior. So Zephaniah is calling for the people to repent. The people need to see and admit their arrogance and pride before God. The people wonder why God hasn’t kept his covenant with them; they want to see Jerusalem restored. But have the people kept their end of the covenant? They (and we) must repent and admit our failings before God; we must be humbled. We have a responsibility in our salvation. While it is by the grace of God that we are saved, we have a moral obligation to do what is right within the sphere of life that we find ourselves.
What are some of our responsibilities?
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! (Zep 3:16) “On that day” is a phrase that we read over and over again in the Bible. In Isaiah it also says, On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Is 29:18-19)
Who are the deaf and the blind?
The Third Sunday of Advent takes its name, “Gaudete” (Rejoice in Latin) Sunday, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. We have every reason to rejoice at the coming of the Lord who sets right all that sin and death have set wrong. But our rejoicing isn’t a superficial cheeriness or an escape from necessary hard choices; rather it forbids us to imagine that the moral life is a set of grim duties. The call to moral conversion is an invitation to lasting joy. The second reading today is part of the conclusion of a beautiful letter by St. Paul. If you haven’t already read it, please do so. Paul tells the early Christian community, and us, to “rejoice in the Lord always!” God is near; do not be anxious, just present your needs to God and they will be met. Be assured of God’s peace and care, which will stand guard around you. But there is a catch, and it shouldn’t be over looked in the midst of all of this rejoicing: “Let your gentleness be known to everyone,” said Paul. God will provide for our needs, but we must care for one another.
Can you recall a time you had great joy in the midst of a personal struggle?
What do we need to do to transform our negativity into real joy?
This Sunday we continue the Gospel of St. Luke with St. John the Baptist, the voice crying out in the wilderness. Last week we heard that “the word of God came to John” to be baptized. Jesus is the word of God, the word made flesh. John is Jesus’ cousin. (Next week we will go back in time to Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, John’s mother, when both women were pregnant.) John was born to prepare the way for Christ. Many of John’s followers wondered if he might be the Messiah.
As the readings progress through the weeks sometimes verses are omitted. The Church omits three verses between last week’s gospel and this week’s. Those three verses are:
7 He said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
8 Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
9 Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
John lived and preached in the desert. He followed a strict rule of life, no frills and straight talk. All of the people that came to him heard their failings explained plainly. He even reproved Herod who eventually sent John to a martyr’s death. The above passage is John speaking plainly to the people. Straighten up your lives he says. Prepare yourselves for the coming of the Messiah. In Advent we too are to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah.
It is based on this prophecy of produce good fruits or suffer the fiery consequences that the people ask John, “What are we to do?” This phrase “what are we to do?” is asked often in Luke’s gospel. One scripture scholar speculates that it was a ritual question asked by the catechumens in the early church. The baptizer responds to this question by telling the people to reform their lives. The reforms he tells the people to do are just ordinary, moral corrections to their specific life situations. Moral conversion is a necessary preparation for the new era, which begins with the coming of the Messiah.
The people ask, “What are we to do” now that we are baptized? John explains to them that baptism is no longer only a ritual cleansing in water to be repeated daily, as was practiced in some Jewish circles. Rather, baptism by water must now be followed by Jesus’ baptism, through the fire of the Spirit.
In Luke’s Gospel we see concern for the poor and disadvantaged in the story of John the Baptist that we don’t see in the other gospels. No longer was sacrifice and fasting a sufficient response to the covenant. Baptism in the new Covenant demanded a more radical sign, that of selfless concern for the marginalized.
Who are the marginalized?
There are the materially poor. Not only are Christ’s followers told to care for them, but there appears to be an underlying call to proper use of one’s possessions.
What is proper use of one’s possessions?
There are also the people despised by the common population, the tax collectors and the soldiers. They were despised for doing their job. But in doing their job, they too had a responsibility to do their job honestly.
The tax and toll collectors were some of the most despised and alienated people in town in Jesus’ time. Because there was no uniform tax in Roman lands, collectors competed for their specific areas, and territories went to the highest bidder (the one who promised to squeeze the largest amount of money from the people). Not only did a tax collector exact the amount promised the government; he demanded an additional (usury) amount – for himself. The Baptizer calls tax collectors to honesty when he says, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed…”.
Soldiers, too, were marginalized, because they were in the service of Herod, the Jewish puppet king. It was up to them to enforce Rome’s will upon the people. When John welcomes soldiers and tax collectors for baptism, his actions are a reversal of common Jewish behavior. He imitates God’s love for the despised and the lowly in the world – and the lowly may not always be limited to those most economically disadvantaged.
In today’s world, in your particular life, who would you consider to be marginalized? This means more than just the economically disadvantaged, but also the powerless.
What of our “resources” could we share with all of the marginalized?
Why is it easier to provide for the poor than it is to empower the poor?