The main character in today’s Gospel is John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus and who eventually baptized him (Matt 3:13-17). He challenges the people of Israel to make a complete change in their lives because the Kingdom of Heaven is near (Matt 3:2). “Kingdom of God” expresses a condition of total submission to God, allowing God to be the sole master in our lives and to control everything. Just as any good kind or leader might do, God seeks to promote our life and well-being but He will only succeed if we collaborate with him and allow our lives to be God centered. We have to move away from self-centeredness which expresses itself in pride, hunger for possessions, power, and prestige, to an attitude of submission to God in total humility and concern for the others, needs like Jesus (Ph 2:5-11). In what areas of our lives do we need to turn back to God? John the Baptist invites us to live a new life by bearing fruit (Matt 3:10; 7:19) that is visible. Advent is a good time to discover together what fruit we are called to bear.
This first Sunday of Advent begins a new year in the Church. This year we follow the readings of Matthew, and this first Sunday the attention is not on the first coming of Jesus, as is the central theme of Advent, but rather on his Second Coming at the end of time. As people await Jesus’ return, the community of disciples must always be prepared because no one knows the time (Matt 24:36,42). It is in ordinary events that our Savior comes to us. In a generation that did not care about God, Noah is singled out as one who found favor in his eyes. Jesus uses this story in the final discourse about the end-time to compare his time with that of Noah. In Noah’s time nobody expected a flood to destroy the world and so people refused to change how they lived. We are invited to accept the Messiah as he comes to us, not in any extraordinary way but rather in the very ordinary things. Jesus does not say when the time will be because nobody knows, except God the Father (Matt 24:36). Since nobody knows when and how the end is going to be we must always be prepared. This is the advice Jesus gives his disciples. Jesus comes to us not only at the end of the world but every day, in every circumstance of our lives. We expect God to manifest himself in spectacular ways like miracles and other extra ordinary events. But this is not the way Jesus comes to us. He invites us to see him in the people and the events of each day: in our family and in our friends, in the poor and the sick.
The last Gospel of the year shows who Jesus really is. He is King, but a King who is not understood and therefore, condemned and crucified. Jesus shows the thief his kingly greatness as he forgives his sins and invites him into his Kingdom. What is going on in the hearts of the people watching silently their dying king? They are struck dumb by the cruelty of the execution and their own powerlessness to do anything. But there is already a transformation of their minds and heart. Our King on the cross is one who struggled against all forms of oppression to bring about Gods reign in a non-violent way and was ready to risk his life. He invites us from the cross to continue his struggle: not to run away from suffering, to be compassionate to our suffering brothers and sisters and to spend our lives to build a different human community built on justice and reconciliation. What Jesus did throughout his life and at the moment of dying is what we, his disciples, his community, are called to continue doing till the end of time. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world with himself….and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Cor 5:18).
Today’s Gospel is a selection from the teachings of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 19:47-21:38) about the destruction of the Temple. The destruction of the Temple is for Jesus, a sign that the “end of time” has arrived, although this end of time cannot be fixed into a specific date. The people of Israel did not have a temple right from the beginning. In the desert they had only a tent, a tabernacle. It contained the Ark of the Covenant with the two tablets of the commandments and the manna. It was David’s son Solomon, who finally built the temple in Jerusalem on top of a hill called Moriah. According to tradition, this was the mountain where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). The Temple was at the heart of Judaism as the place of the presence of God among his people. Some people however began to think of the temple no longer as a place for meeting God and renewing their covenant with him. They looked at the temple as a kind of magic guarantee that God was obliged to protect Israel even if they ignored and broke the terms of the covenant. We know that the real dwelling place of God is in our heart. “We are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). That temple cannot be destroyed by others as long as God lives there. We do not cling to the institution of the church; instead, we cling to Christ’s mission of reconciliation in the world.
Jesus reveals surprising things about who enjoys blessings and who endures woe. He invites his disciples to shower radical love, blessings, forgiveness, generosity, and trust, even to enemies and outsiders. In holy baptism God makes saints out of sinners. In holy communion God forgives the sins of all the saints. On All Saints Day we give thanks for all the saints “who from their labors rest,” who have fought the good fight, who have gained the crown. In the same breath we petition our God for the strength to hear and to heed the admonitions of the Lord Jesus in today’s gospel. Recalling that we have been sealed by the Spirit and sustained by the Savior’s body and blood, we keep on keeping on as God gives us breath, to the praise of God’s glory.
* This Sunday is Reformation Sunday when we celebrate our Lutheran heritage and membership in the oldest and largest Protestant denomination. And yet, in what ways do we cling to that heritage instead of to Christ?
* Do we really know Christ Jesus to be the "truth" (v 32)? In "what" or "whom" do we place our faith? For many, faith and trust is put in the security of our incomes, investments, and retirement prospects. Whenever Jesus no longer becomes the "truth that sets us free," we lose our freedom (v 31).
* The ultimate tragedy is that God has no room for the religious, or being Lutheran. Without faith in Christ alone, we miss the promise. The faithless are deprived of any permanent place in God's "household" (v.35).
* Faith alone frees us: + from the power of sin, + for the ability to continue in the Word. Truly living a life of faith in Christ is what we celebrate on Reformation Sunday.
* The "faith" proclaimed by Paul, and Augustine, and then eventually Luther is a living faith in Christ that is real in our daily living. It is faith in Christ that revealed the truth to Luther and "set him free."
* It was the gift of faith that enabled Luther to continue in God's Word. It was faith in Christ that animated and empowered Luther's discipleship. It was faith that shaped Luther's reforms. And, it is faith in Christ that reveals God's truth to us about our sinful bondage and the new ability Christ offers us to continue in his Word.
* The Spirit's gift of faith connects us to Christ and offers us a place in God's "household." Getting into the household comes from having a member of the house, who lives there, invite us in. Christ Jesus is that one.
* What is faith? 1.) Ability to believe/cling to the Crucified one for salvation. 2.) Given through baptism to reveal our sinful separation from God.
This parable of Jesus presents a contrast between a Pharisee and a tax collector. If ever there was a self-made, self-assured man it would be the Pharisee. A pharisee's accomplishments went above and beyond the call of duty. They fasted at least twice a week. They gave a weekly double tithe (10%) - a tithe offering on their income and a tithe offering on their accumulated wealth! They were outwardly the best example of how a child of God should live their life. Pharisees were honest, hardworking, and exemplary citizens. They were maybe most known for their prayer life. Many Biblical scholars today believe that Jesus was himself a member of the Pharisees. If ever there was a class of people that we categorically despised, it would be the tax collectors. They were looked down upon as those without any piety, and worst of all, they were morally corrupt, sending into bankruptcy the poor who could not pay. In this Gospel, the tax collector even breaks all the prayer customs of the day - his eyes looked down and his prayer was crude and did not follow a prescribed pattern. If ever there was a story with a surprise ending, this is it! Jesus announces that it is the tax collector who leaves the temple justified and not the Pharisee. Jesus uncovers the arrogance of the Pharisee who justified his life before God by comparing himself with other people. And yet, the Pharisee's worst offense is his belief that a person can make their relationship better with God by the way they live their life. In contrast, Jesus insists that the tax collector had a good relationship with God because he depended upon God's forgiveness above to renew his relationship with God. The challenge is not to measure ourselves against others (especially those who are living in sin). Christ calls us to measure ourselves against the standards of God's moral Law, and then repent.
Jesus tells a parable of a hateful judge who is worn down by a widow’s pleas. Jesus is calling God’s people to cry out for justice and deliverance. For if an unethical judge will ultimately grant the plea of a persistent widow, how much more will God respond to those who call. Pray always. Do not lose heart. This is the encouragement of the Christ of the gospel today. Persistence in our every encounter with the divine will be blessed. Wrestle with the word. Remember your baptism again and again throughout each day. Come regularly to Christ’s table. Persistence in our every encounter with the Lord will be blessed. The parable’s one point is that God hears the cries of people and responds to them without delay. Are we as quick to wait for God’s answer to our prayers?
Jesus’ mission includes making the unclean clean again. Unexpectedly, a cleansed Samaritan leper (outcast) becomes a model for those who would praise and worship God and give thanks for God’s mercy. This Gospel reminds us that we too have been healed. The waters of baptism have healed us. The body and blood of Jesus in communion have made us clean. We have died with Christ and been raised with him. For all this we have returned to offer thanks. From this place we are sent on our way rejoicing to share the good news. How wonderful it is each time we receive the body and blood of our Savior in worship! It is a true Eucharist—a great thanksgiving—of what our Lord has given to us. Each time we feast on the bread and wine—the true presence of Christ—Christ fills us with good things: the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus instructs his followers about the power of faith and the duties of discipleship. He calls his disciples to adopt the attitude of servants whose actions are responses to their identity rather than works seeking reward. A little faith goes a long way is our Lord’s point in the gospel. A mustard seed’s-worth has miraculous potential. The patience, tenacity, and endurance required for the life of faith are the blessings received in water and the word (baptism), bread and wine (communion), the word read and proclaimed in this assembly. Anticipate them. Receive them with thanksgiving. Faith is the inner belief given to us by the Holy Spirit, which enables us to cling to God’s gift of the Savior.