14th December 2020

Monday, Third Week of Advent;

Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Num 24:2-7,15-17;    Ps 25:4-9;    Mt 21:23-27


The story of Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22) is better known than his oracles. The local king, Balak, sent his prophet, Balaam, to curse Israel as they attempted to pass through his land. As Balaam obediently set off to do so, his donkey abruptly lay down on the path and refused to go on. Invisible to Balaam, the way was blocked by an angel. God then opened his eyes, and he went on, now not to curse Israel but to bless them. In today’s reading, we have two separate poems; the first centered on the blessings brought to the land, the second on the leadership of the star arising from Jacob.

The gospel contains the beginning of the final confrontation between Jesus and the Temple authorities. Jesus had already made a demonstration that the worship carried out in the Temple was vain, by cleansing it. He would soon go on to tell the parable of the Wicked Vine-Dressers, indicating that the current custodians of the Temple were no better than the ones whom Isaiah, in the days before the Babylonian exile, had castigated as unworthy keepers of Israel, the vineyard of the Lord. Now, the chief priests and elders ask Jesus where his authority came from.

He answers them with a question, asking if John’s baptism came from heaven, or from human origin. His accusers refused to answer lest they incriminate themselves in the eyes of the crowd. Jesus, in turn, doesn’t answer their question. The passage hints at John the Baptist being well known as a holy man among the people, and Jesus uses this belief to nullify the trap laid by the Temple authorities. John had been taken into custody for fear of a messianic rebellion as he had hinted at the expulsion of the Romans. Jesus carefully avoided anyone referring to him as the ‘Messiah, son of David’. As we approach Christmas it is valuable to reflect once more that Jesus’ Kingdom was founded on other values than those of the world.

Responsorial Psalm: Teach me your paths, O Lord.

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