3 December, 2012. First Week of Advent – Monday (or: St Francis Xavier)
First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
(Learning wisdom and peace from the Messiah, they shall beat their swords into ploughshares.)
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
(Mt 8:5ff. The centurion’s strong faith; foreigners will share in the Jewish blessings.)
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
Vision of the Future
The weekdays of Advent begin with Isaiah’s vision of universal peace. Twenty eight centuries ago, while the Bible was still being formed, this vision opened the book of Isaiah. Chapter two was once the introduction: “This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. ” Chapter one, with its alternative introduction, was later added, drawing material from various moments of the prophet’s long career. We may regard today’s vision, recorded in the opening lines of chapter two, as expressing the finest hopes and ultimate goal of Isaiah, son of Amoz.
This vision recurs, almost identically, in the prophecy of Micah (Mic 4:1-3). It is difficult to decide which prophet is the original author; or whether each drew upon a well-established liturgical text. It carries the vague but wonderful hope that all nations and races would unite in harmony at the Jerusalem temple. It seems too good to be true, since it clashed with the exclusivity imposed in the Jerusalem temple. And it still seems too good to be practical, for how can all the peoples of the world get along peacefully with one another? The final verse, added by Isaiah, restricts the pilgrimage to the “House of Jacob;” and Micah seems even more restraining: while other peoples walk in the name of their god, Israel will walk in the name of the Lord.
God’s expectations of us can be measured by some practical questions. Are we willing to invite to our dinner table everyone who receives Holy Communion with us at church? Are we ready to forget injuries and grudges – and beat “swords into ploughshares”? This vision at the outset of Advent sweeps far beyond the boundaries of Israel, or of our own locality. “All nations,” people of all races and ethnic groups, are to stream toward the Lord’s temple. Again we ask, are we willing to open our doors and welcome these many, so different from ourselves? Really, it is too good to be true and hardly very practical – apart from the grace of God.
In the Gospel, Jesus is invited to the home of a Roman centurion, so different in religion and background, representing a foreign, oppressive power. And when Jesus accepts, it is the Roman who hesitates, feeling totally unworthy of a holy man’s presence within his home. Jesus is amazed at such humility, and did not miss the centurion’s solicitude for his slave who would have been from some captured nation. The centurion was humbling himself before Jesus, a Jew, all for the sake of his slave!
Jesus points out this outsider as an example of kinship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is still advising us to look to 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. In Advent we are asked to learn, humbly and gratefully, from the outsider how to live worthily inside the holy temple of God.