Now at the Third Sunday of Advent we are invited by the readings to consider how God has fulfilled, and is still fulfilling His promises in the world and in our own lives. Isaiah promises an abundance of blessings in the Messianic age and Jesus expands on them by adding even greater ones in His modified quotation of Isaiah. To what extent are we, like John, misled by our expectations and looking for the wrong kind of Messiah? James reminds us of the need for patience. Just as the farmer must wait for the rains to come in due time, so must we wait for the grace of God to rain down on us at the proper time. We, like the ground, must wait and get prepared. Once again the great Advent question comes up. “How are we spending the time while we wait? ” After all, Advent is all about waiting. Israel waited for the coming of the Messiah; we wait for His return and we wait and look for Him in each other.
First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
1 The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
2 They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
4 Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
6 Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the dumb will sing.
10 Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 35:1 The personification of nature is common in the Book of Isaiah as in 33:9, 44:23, 55:12.
* 35:2 These are all fertile areas renown for their beautiful trees and lush foliage. The Glory of the Lord will be responsible for the transformation and will bring it about.
* 35:4 These are God’s words to Joshua in Jos 1:6-7,9,18
* “God will come” is similar to language used for the coming of the Messiah (62:11; Rev 22:12; 34:8).
* 35:5 Spiritual and physical healing are linked together as in the ministry of Jesus. This is the scripture quote with which Jesus answers the disciples of John. (Mat 11:5)
* 35:6a These are signs of the Messianic age (Mat 12:22; Acts 3:7-8; 32:2; Ex 17:6; 2Kings 3:15-20).
*6b-9 These verses are left out of the reading. Although they may originally have referred to the restoration of Israel, in time they came to be seen as a statement of the idyllic conditions of the Messianic age.
Second Reading: James 5:7-10
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
9 Do not complain, brothers, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. 10 Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 5:7-11 Here James reminds those oppressed by the unjust rich of the need for patience, both in bearing the sufferings of human life and in their expectation of the coming of the Lord. It is at the Lord’s coming that they will receive their reward (James 5:7-8,10-11; Hebrews 10:25; 1 John 2:18).
* 5:7 The early and the late rains is an expression related to the agricultural seasons in ancient Palestine which had two rainy seasons (October-November and April-May) each year (see Deut 11:14; Jer 5:24; Joel 2:23). This expression is often used in the Old Testament in the numeration of God’s gifts (Deut 11:14).
* 5:8 Although the letter echoes the sayings of Jesus in many places, this is one of the few clear statements of specifically Christian doctrine in James.
* 5:9 The coming of the Lord is now cast as the coming of the Judge. James urges peaceful relations among members of the community as he echoes 4:11-12.
* 5:10 Here the disciples are reminded that they stand in the tradition of the prophets who were often martyrs. See Matt 23:29-31; Acts 7:52.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 11:2-11
2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
7 As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. 9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’
11 Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
NOTES on Gospel Reading:
* 11:2-12:50 This is the beginning of the narrative section of the third part of Matthew’s Gospel which deals with the growing opposition to Jesus. It is largely devoted to disputes and attacks relating to faith and discipleship and thus contains much material on the sayings of Jesus.
* 11:2 The story of John’s imprisonment is related in Matthew 14:1-12. The phrase, “what the Messiah was doing” refers to the deeds in Matthew 8-9. Use of this phrase turns attention to the real question which is, “what type of Messiah is Jesus to be?”
* 11:3 In 3:10 and 12 John had expressed his expectation that the one who is to come (Malachi 3:1) would be on a mission of fiery judgment. The ministry of Jesus seemed to be one of reconciliation rather than judgment and John may well have been puzzled.
* 11:4-5 Jesus’ works of mercy are a fulfillment of God’s promises. His answer is full of allusions to Isa 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5 and 61:1-2.
* 11:5 The original statements in Isaiah did not mention lepers or the dead. These are added in the gospel, perhaps to indicate the abundance with which God’s promises are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. Jesus presents himself as a blessing on the needy rather than as a judgment on the wicked. Other parts of Matthew present the judgment aspects of Christ’s mission.
* 11:6 The beatitude is a warning to John not to disbelieve because his expectations have not been met.
* 11:7-15 Although Jesus seems to rebuke John, this is counterbalanced by a reminder of the greatness of the Baptist’s function.
* 11:9-10 The popular Jewish belief was that there had been no prophet in Israel since the last of the Old Testament prophets, Malachi. The coming of a new prophet was eagerly awaited by the people, and Jesus agrees that John was such a prophet. Yet Jesus insists that John was more than a prophet, for he was the precursor of the one who would bring in the new and final age. The Old Testament quotation is a combination of Malachi 3:1 and Exodus 23:20 with the significant change that the “before me” of Malachi becomes “before you.” The messenger now precedes not Yahweh, as in the original, but Jesus.
* 11:11 This verse does not compare the individual persons but the period of salvation history or the age of grace of which they are a part. John although a New Testament character is really a prophet in the Old Testament sense. The least in the kingdom of heaven is identified with Christ Himself.
Scripture text: New American Bible with revised New Testament copyright © 1986,1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
Vince Del Greco
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) (Eds. Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy)