Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings
3rd SUNDAY IN ADVENT (Cycle A)
The 3rd Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete (gow-DAY-tay) is a Latin word that means "rejoice." Each Mass has its own entrance Antiphon which is a sentence or two, most often taken from Scripture. In many countries, the congregation sings the Antiphon at the beginning of Mass instead of an opening hymn. The title of today's Mass comes from the first Latin word of the day's Antiphon and tells us why we should rejoice: "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near." The Antiphon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent is inspired by the words from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians 4:4.
Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Our Joyful Hope
The three Christian virtues are faith, hope, and love. A person who lives without faith or hope becomes a victim of despair, and the person who lives without love endures an empty life. But the Christian who practices the virtues of faith, hope, and love puts his trust in God knowing that no matter how difficult his earthly struggles that God has provided the hope of a future full of joy and infinite love.
In our First Reading, God promises to restore His covenant people after their years of exile and return them to worship in the Promised Land. Christians apply this passage to Jesus, God's Anointed One (Messiah) who came to liberate God's people from their exile in sin by declaring the coming of the Kingdom of God in the new Zion of the New Covenant universal Church. Jesus came to save us by ransoming us from the bondage of sin and death and to guide us to the Promised Land of Heaven. The worship we experience in the sacrifice of the Mass is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that is promised us in the heavenly Zion where the redeemed will experience "everlasting joy." The festive lights we hang at Christmas time are meant to remind us of the true "Light of the World," Jesus Christ, the source of our promised eternal joy.
In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist praises God who is merciful to the needy, gives justice to the oppressed, and keeps faith forever. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, fulfilled the seven works of God listed in this psalm. During His earthly mission, Jesus fed the hungry, proclaimed a divine liberation for those who were captives to sin, gave sight to the blind, and showed His love to the just, lifted up those bowed down by injustice, welcomed the outsiders, and loved and supported the oppressed. It is Jesus Christ who reigns forever from the heavenly Sanctuary over the new Zion of God's Kingdom of the Church who continues His mission of love and mercy on earth for all generations of humanity until His glorious return.
In the Second Reading, St. James urges Christians to remain patient in waiting for the Second Advent of the Christ. St. James uses the example of a farmer who watches for the rains to come that he knows will provide the last "growing season" before the harvest. He assures us that the Lord will be coming soon to call forth all souls in the last great human harvest to stand before the throne of God in the Final Judgment of humanity.
In today's Gospel Reading, St. John the Baptist, arrested and imprisoned by Herod Antipas, sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the "One who is to come," meaning the promised Messiah. In response to their question, Jesus offers evidence to John's disciples that He is fulfilling the Messianic prophecies of the prophets in healing the sick, the physically disabled, raising the dead, and proclaiming the "good news" of the kingdom.
Then, Jesus gives two statements concerning St. John the Baptist. First, Jesus declares that John is the greatest of the Old Testament/Old Covenant prophets because he was chosen by God to prepare the way for the Messiah and to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. However, since the coming of the Kingdom has not yet been fulfilled, John is still in the age of those not yet glorified by the Passion and Resurrection of the Christ. After Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension, the saints whose mission it will be to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to all mankind will have an even greater mission than St. John the Baptist. Christians today who continue to take up the mission to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to their families, their communities, and the world are among those who Jesus declared will be greater in Heaven than St. John the Baptist.
The First Reading Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 ~ The Promise of a Future Restoration
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.
Isaiah 35 is a poem of joyful hope in which God promises to restore His covenant people and return them to worship in the Promised Land. Zion is another name for Jerusalem as the site of God's holy Temple and the spiritual home of His covenant people. Christians apply this passage to Jesus, God's Anointed One (Messiah), who came to liberate God's people from their exile in sin by declaring the coming of the Kingdom of God in the new Zion of the New Covenant universal Church. Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the prophets: He healed the lame and the deaf, He comforted the forsaken, He raised the dead, and He restored sight to the blind both physically and spiritually. He came to save us by ransoming us from the bondage of sin and death to guide us to the Promised Land of Heaven. Our worship in the sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that is promised us in the heavenly Zion where the redeemed will experience "everlasting joy." The festive lights we hang at Christmas time are meant to remind us of the true "Light of the World," Jesus Christ, the source of our promised eternal joy.
Responsorial Psalm 146:6b-10 ~ Praise God who Keeps Faith Forever
The response is: "Lord, come and save us."
6b The LORD God
keeps faith forever, 7 secures
justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.
8 The LORD gives sight to the blind; the LORD raises up those that were bowed down. The LORD loves the just; 9 the LORD protects strangers.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains, but the way of the wicked he thwarts. 10 The LORD shall reign forever; your God, O Zion, through all generations.
The Psalmist praises God "who keeps faith forever" (verse 6b). It is the God of Israel, he proclaims, who shows mercy; and then he lists the seven ways God gives justice to the oppressed:
God is a just judge. While God shows mercy to the oppressed, He also judges the wicked. The Psalmist began the psalm in verse 2 by praising "my God," and he concludes his prayer by praising the "God of Zion" who shall reign forever, "throughout all generations" in verse 10.
This psalm is fulfilled in Jesus who, during His earthly mission in proclaiming the Kingdom, fed the hungry in two great miracle feedings (Mt 14:14-21; 15:32-38; Mk 6:34-44; 8:1-9; Jn 6:9-14), proclaimed a divine liberation for those who were captives to sin (see Lk 4:18-21 where Jesus quoted Is 61:1-2; also see 1 Pt 3:19-20; 4:6), gave sight to the blind (i.e., Mt 9:27-30), and showed His love by lifting up those bowed down by injustice (i.e., Lk 6:20-23). It is Jesus Christ who reigns forever from the heavenly Sanctuary over the new Zion of God's kingdom of the Church on earth for all generations.
The Second Reading James 5:7-10 ~ The Lord's Coming is at Hand
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, 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 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 and sisters, 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 and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
St. James' phrase until the coming of the Lord, rendered in the Greek heos tes parousias tou Kyrios, is deeply textured with eschatological overtones for both for James' 1st century AD audience and for the Christians of future generations. Generally, parousia referred to the presence or the arrival of a person or rank or authority. For example St. Paul, as Christ's representative, uses this word in his letter to the Church in Philippi, promising his "presence/parousia" upon his return as he writes: so that my return to be among (parousias) you may increase to overflowing your pride in Jesus Christ on my account (Phil 1:26). Later in Philippians 2:12, Paul uses the same word to encourage the faithful of the Church at Philippi to be as obedient to the faith when he is away from them as they are when he is with them: So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present (parousia).
However, it is important to note that the usual secular meaning of this word in the Greco-Roman world was to announce the official visit of a king or ruler to one of his vassal states or cities which was bound to him by a covenant treaty. The king's visit was to judge the loyalty of those bound to him by a covenant and to dispense justice. Christians adopted this term to describe the glorious "coming" of the Christ, as the word is used by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22-24, to express Jesus Christ's Second Advent at the end of time: Just as all die in Adam, so in Christ all will be brought to life; but all of them in their proper order: Christ the first-fruits, and next, at his coming (parousia), those who belong to him. After that will come the end when he will hand over the kingdom of God the Father, having abolished every principality, every ruling force and power.
Christians usually associate the word Parousia with the Second Advent of Christ and the end of time as we know it with the creation of the new Heaven and the new earth. However, the understanding of this word should not be limited to that final experience of the arrival or Parousia of the King of Kings. It can be used to describe any time Christ comes whether in judgment or in a display of His power: He comes and is present to us in the Eucharist, and He comes to us at the end of our earthly lives to act as our Advocate in our Individual or Particular Judgment (CCC 1021-22).
7b See how the
farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until
it receives the early and late rains. 8 You
too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is
The demonstrative "See" (also rendered "Look"/ "Behold") occurs three times in the Greek text in 5:7, 9, and 11; each time drawing special attention to the next statement. In this case, it is the farmer waiting patiently for the precious "fruit of the earth." Those of us who long for Christ's return must be patient like the farmer who waits for the early and late rains. The use of the Hebraic terms "early" and "late" shows James was completely familiar with the rainfall and cultivation cycle that was peculiar to Palestine.
It is interesting that the majority of Old Testament references to the early and later rains are associated with covenant blessings and judgments (Lev 26:3-5; Dt 11:13-14; Joel 2:23). In verses 7-8, James calls his kinsmen to patient endurance like a farmer waiting for the rains that provide the last "growing season" before the harvest. He assures his audience that the Lord will be coming soon. Once again, James is speaking in the symbolic language of the Old Testament prophets. The Church is the patient farmer waiting for the fruit of the Gospel message of salvation to grow until the time of the harvest when the Harvester will come to reap the "fruits" of His crop (see Jesus' teaching on the "final harvest" in Mt 13:36-43). He tells his audience and us not to lose heart because the Lord's parousia will be soon. For the second time, James has expressed the belief that the Lord's coming is soon. It is a coming that will be followed by the Last Judgment (CCC 1038-41).
There are many "comings" of the Lord but there will be one Final Parousia. In Acts 2:14-41, St. Peter announced that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant. He told his Jewish kinsmen that they were in "last days" of the Sinai Covenant. The miracle of the Holy Spirit coming to the new Israel of Jesus' Kingdom of the Church on the Feast of Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 3:1-5). The interval between the Messiah's first coming and His return is called the Final Days and the Days of Salvation. It is the time allowed for conversion granted to the faithful remnant of the new Israel of the universal Church (Rom 11:5) and through them to the Gentiles (Rom 11:25; Eph 2:12ff; Lk 21:24; Rev 6:11). The length of this Final Age is uncertain. Therefore, it is necessary to be watchful for the return of the Messiah (1 Thes 5:6; 2 Pt 3:10). We must use the time of this universal conversion for the sake of one's own salvation and the salvation of others (Col 4:5; Eph 5:16; Gal 6:10) before Christ comes to complete the "harvest" of souls into God's storehouse of heaven (Rom 12:19; 1 Cor 4:5).
9 Do not complain,
brothers and sisters, 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 and sisters, the
prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
The warning is not to slander a covenant kinsman or woman and to behave as a loving brother or sister or expect to face God's judgment. When we judge the sinner and not the sin, we are judging against the law of love, and we will face judgment for our actions. We must continually prepare our souls for judgment for our divine Judge, as James warns, is standing before the gates.
The Greek phrase "before the doors/gates" is similar to the phrase used by Jesus in Matthew 24:33-34. It is also reminiscent of Mark 13:29-30 when Jesus compared the coming judgment to a fig tree beginning to blossom as a sign of the coming summer: So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates. James does not seem to be envisioning God the Father as Judge but Christ's coming in judgment on the Kingdom He established. Jesus is ready to enter the gates as the King of the earthly Kingdom who has come to examine his vassals and to determine their covenant loyalty. This event is the "parousia" of the King of kings in a Greco-Roman context.
James says in verse 10 that we should look to the prophets for our example of patient endurance. Of all the prophets, he chose Job for his example in verse 11 (not in our reading). Job suffered for his faith in God. In fact, he lost everything he loved in this world: family, friends, and fortune by will and whim of Satan who tried to make Job curse the God he loved. In the end, God proved to Job that only He had the power and wisdom to deal with Satan and that Job's life was entirely in God's hands. Job and the other prophets are examples of faithful endurance under testing. When we suffer or grow anxious, St. James suggests that we should look to the lives of the prophets and try to emulate their hope, faith, and love.
The Gospel of Matthew 11:2-11 ~ Jesus' Testimony Concerning St. John the Baptist
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 who 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.
Herod Antipas arrested St. John and imprisoned him at Macherus, Herod's fortress in Perea located east of the Dead Sea (Mt 4:12; 14:3-12; Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.2 ). Hearing about Jesus' miracles of healing and raising the dead, St. John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the "One who is to come," meaning the promised Messiah.
"The One who is to come" was not a Messianic title, but in Isaiah 59:20 the same verb refers to the promised Redeemer-Messiah: He shall come to Zion a redeemer to those of Jacob who turn from sin, says the LORD. This is the covenant with them which I myself have made, says the LORD: My spirit which is upon you and my words that I have put into your mouth shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children nor the mouths of your children's children from now on and forever, says the LORD (Is 59:20-21).
There are two interpretations concerning the significance of John sending his disciples to question Jesus:
St. Pope John Paul II embraced the first interpretation and wrote that the question John's disciples were sent to ask Jesus demonstrated that John the Baptist "had a different idea about the Messiah" (Jesus, Son and Savior: A Catechesis on the Creed, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1996, 2.127). Pope John Paul II pointed out that St. John revealed his understanding of the mission of the Messiah in his confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism of repentance in Matthew 3:7-12 (also see Lk 3:7-9). These were the religious leaders that the prophet Ezekiel wrote about as "failed Shepherds" in Ezekiel 36:25-27 (also see Jer 15:7 and Is 41:16). It his encounter with the Old (Sinai) Covenant Church's corrupt leadership/ "shepherds," an angry St. John warned them and the Jewish crowd that it was the Messiah's mission to come in judgment and to renew the faithful remnant of the covenant people with God's Spirit. He alluded to those passages of judgment in the books of the prophets and warned that the Messiah would single out the wicked (like them) for divine retribution.
In his confrontation with the Old Covenant "shepherds" of God's "flock" who had become corrupt, John was fulfilling his role as the last of the Old Covenant holy prophets of God. The question is can we interpret John's angry confrontation with the corrupt religious leadership to mean that John did not understand the other aspects of the Messiah's mission described by the prophets? Or, in his anger, was St. John only addressing one aspect of the Messiah's mission that is relevant to the corrupt "shepherds of Israel" (see Ez 34:1-2) who have come to him, not for a baptism of genuine repentance but to test John and his understanding of his mission (see Jn 1:19-27)? John's description of Jesus' actions as the Messiah-Judge in Matthew 3:7-12 were fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2), in the judgment on the Old Covenant Church in the destruction of the Temple (prophesied by Jesus in Mt 23:2-24:22 and fulfilled in 70 AD), and in Jesus' role as the divine judge of mankind's sins in the Last Judgment when He will divide the wicked from the righteous. It was a judgment Jesus described in His discourse on the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46).
St. John Chrysostom (344/354-407) and St. Jerome (347-420) embraced the second interpretation of the passage. John Chrysostom wrote: Jesus knew the mind of John who sent them, for he knew, as God knows, our inner thoughts. There he was, actively healing the blind, lame, and many others. He healed not to teach John, who was already convinced, but those who had come to him doubting. Having healed them he said, "God and tell John what you hear and see ..." In this way Christ drew them all the more closely to himself (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 36.2). And St. Jerome wrote that John did not send his disciples to Jesus because he was beginning to doubt that Jesus was the promised Messiah: John asks this not because he is ignorant but to guide others who are ignorant and to say to them, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jerome, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 2.11.3). Jerome points out that St. John knew he was going to die soon; therefore, he was sending his disciples to Jesus so they could have answers to their questions, come to know Him, and become Jesus' disciples.
Jerome believed the problem wasn't with St. John, but the problem was that John's disciples doubted Jesus was the Messiah. Notice that in 11:2 St. Matthew records that in prison John heard about the works of "the Messiah" (verse 2) and not just the works of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps John's disciples were confused about Jesus' identity because they were expecting that the Messiah would fast and exhibit other signs of piety like St. John taught them and like the Pharisees. Earlier in Matthew 9:14, St. John's disciples even questioned Jesus concerning why He and His disciples did not fast.
Was John's understanding of the mission of the Messiah only limited to the prophecies of the Messiah's role as deliverer of Israel and judge of the wicked? Scripture relates that St. John would have received information concerning Jesus' mission as the Messiah (see Lk 1:5-20; Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:26-34). John knew from his father's encounter with the angel Gabriel that he was the forerunner of the Messiah, and he was taught all the prophecies concerning the Messiah. He also already received proof of Jesus' true identity:
St. John's address to the failed leadership of the covenant and the crowds concerning repentance and divine judgment was in keeping with his mission. It was a prophet's primary mission to call the people to repentance. And he was commissioned before his birth as God's holy prophet to herald the coming of the Messiah. Knowing all this, it cannot mean John didn't understand Jesus' mission in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
Jesus offers evidence to John's disciples that He is fulfilling the prophecies of the prophets concerning the Messiah when He tells them: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, they dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. In healing the sick, the physically disabled, raising the dead, and proclaiming the "good news" of the kingdom, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah's prophecies of the Messiah (Is 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:4-6; 61:1-2). Then, Jesus tells John's disciples: "And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me" in verse 6. Jesus is referring to the inward offense the disciples of John were taking against Him in questioning if Jesus was indeed the Messiah. St. John Chrysostom writes that Jesus was gently reprimanding John's disciples for doubting and being silently offended by Him: He made their case for them, leaving it to their own conscience alone to judge, calling no witness of his reprimand other than they themselves who knew what they had been thinking. For it was of their own inward offense that he was thinking when he said, "Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me" (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 36.2).
St. John's disciples, like many in Judea in the 1st century AD, may have been looking for the Messiah as a new Moses or a new David to liberate their people from the oppression of the Romans. In the next part of the passage (verses 7-9), as John's disciples were leaving, Jesus asks the crowds a series of six rhetorical questions: 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 who 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.
Jesus' reference to "someone dressed in fine clothing" living "in royal palaces" may be an allusion to Herod Antipas who arrested and imprisoned John the Baptist. John wore course camel's hair for his garment, and he was firm in his message of repentance. John was not a "reed swayed by the wind" of secular society. Then, in verse 10, Jesus identifies St. John as a prophet of God and a successor of the prophet Malachi: 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.' Malachi was the last old covenant prophet to write a prophetic book. He lived in the post-exile period (5th century BC). Jesus quotes the prophecy of God's "messenger" from Malachi 3:1. The passage in Malachi 3:1 repeats the promise of the precursor of the Messiah that was already promised in the "prophetic voice" prophecy of Isaiah that St. John quoted of himself (Is 40:3 quoted in Mt 3:3) and who Malachi identified with the 9th century BC prophet Elijah in Malachi 3:23. Also see Mk 1:2-3 (quotes both Mal 3:1 and Is 40:3-5); Lk 3:4-6 (quotes Is 40:3-5) and Jn 1:23 (quotes Is 40:3).
11Amen, 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.
In these two statements concerning St. John the Baptist, Jesus declares that John is the greatest of the Old Testament/Old Covenant prophets because God chose John to prepare the way for the Messiah and to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. However, since the coming of the Kingdom has not yet been fulfilled, he is still in the age of those not yet glorified by the Passion and Resurrection of the Christ. After Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension, the saints whose mission is to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to all mankind will have a greater mission than St. John and therefore greater glory.
There is no personal slight intended concerning St. John in Jesus' statement. Jesus is speaking of epochs of man rather than persons. John is part of the Old Covenant and will not live to see the inauguration of the New Covenant. However, St. John will also receive the Infinite Merit of the grace of salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He will be admitted into the gates of heaven with all the other righteous souls in Sheol (CCC 633) who are liberated by the Messiah's perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross (1 Pt 3:19-20; 4:6).
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013; revised 2016, www.AgapeBibleStudy.com