28 Nov. Monday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 2:1ff. Learning wisdom and peace from the Messiah, they shall beat their swords into ploughshares.
Matthew 8:5ff. Jesus cures the centurion’s servant, seeing the Roman’s strong faith; he says that many foreigners will share in the Jewish blessings.
Vision of a Golden Future
The weekdays of Advent open with Isaiah’s vision of universal peace. While Isaiah’s preached message was being put into literary form, this surely was its opening vision, as it was clearly meant as an introduction: “This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” Later on, chapter one was added as a more elaborate introduction, using material from various moments of the prophet’s long career. In this sense the vision told in today’s text is our earliest glimples into the mind of Isaiah, son of Amoz.
This vision carries the wonderful hope that all nations and races will come together harmoniously at the Jerusalem temple. The ideal seemed too good to be true, as it would break the temple regulations. It still seems too good to be workable, for how can all the peoples of our competitive world get along peacefully with one another? The final verse, added by Isaiah, restricts the pilgrimage to the “House of Jacob,” while the corresponding text in Micah seems more restraining still: while other peoples walk in the name of their gods, Israel will walk in the name of the Lord, Yahweh.
God’s hopes for us can be measured in some practical questions. Are we willing to invite to our family dinner table everyone who receives Holy Communion with us at church? Are we ready to forget grudges – to beat “swords into ploughshares”? This vision at the outset of Advent sweeps far beyond the boundaries of our own locality. “All nations,” people of all races and ethnic groups, are streaming toward the Lord’s temple. Again we ask, are we willing to open our doors and welcome all these many, so different from ourselves? Really, it is too good to be true and hardly very practical.
In the Gospel, Jesus is invited to the home of a Roman centurion, a man of very different religion and ethnic background, representing a foreign, oppressive power, and he accepts. It is the Roman who hesitates, feeling totally unworthy of Jesus’ presence within his home. Jesus is amazed at such gentle humility, and notes the centurion’s solicitude for his slave, who would have been a non-Roman from some captured nation. The centurion bows before Jesus, a Jew, for the sake of his slave!
Jesus points out this outsider as an example of a genuine follower and descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is still advising us to look toward the outsider for direction and encouragement in becoming his true follower today. People are streaming toward Jesus, our Zion and Jerusalem, our center of prayer and worship, and to our surprise we find that we have been considering them outsiders. He tells us: “I assure you, I have never found this much faith” in your midst.
During Advent we can learn humbly and gratefully from the outsider, how to live worthily in God’s holy temple. From unexpected sources we can learn so much. But we must not impose our own restrictive clauses on this vision, as happened in the book of Isaiah and particularly of Micah. It may be too good for now, but nonetheless it is necessary to keep our hopes as pure and exalted as possible, to remain in touch with what God really wants.
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Gospel: Matthew 8:5-11
When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”
When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven