In Chapter 50 of Isaiah, the prophet says he has been given a well-trained tongue, to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. In this season of Advent, the readings we are given to hear today do indeed have words that rouse feelings and responses in us as we approach the great feast of the Incarnation at Christmas.
What is the relationship between the "peaceable kingdom" imaged in today's readings and our current urgent call to re-establish the ecological harmony that human actions have so profoundly damaged in recent years? There is a connection - but not a literal one. For example, take the line that says "the lion shall eat hay like the ox." As anyone who has ever had a cat around the house knows, felines may nibble a little grass here and there, but their digestive systems are made to thrive on meat. Cats are predators, built to hunt and kill for a living.
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42)
In December 1997, Las Abejas, a group of forty-eight indigenous communities whose name means "the bees," came to the world's attention when forty-five of their members, mostly women and children, were murdered. They were killed by paramilitary troops while they were fasting and praying for peace in their rough-hewn wooden chapel in the village of Acteal, Mexico.
The readings for this Sunday have a rather sober, even ominous mood about them. A famous passage from the Prophet Malachi speaks of the final days of judgment that will fall upon Israel. That day will be "blazing like an oven" and those who are "proud" and "all evildoers" will be like burnt "stubble." The "fire" of that judgment day will consume them and leave "neither root nor branch".
Jesus proclaimed, served, and witnessed to the Reign of God. He proclaimed it through his parables, served it through his actions of healing and forgiveness, and witnessed to it through his behavior, particularly in table fellowship with the marginalized. These were all counter-cultural actions. By our baptism, we are to continue this mission of Jesus, with and without words, in both small and large ways.
Tax collectors were not the most loved people in 1st Century Roman Palestine. The economic situation at the time was characterized by the notion of "limited good," that is, all goods (both tangible goods such as food, money, and property; and intangible goods such as power and status) were in limited supply and were already distributed. In this equation, to take more than what is rightfully yours meant that your neighbor would have less.
This Sunday's gospel reading deals with the necessity of being persistent in prayer. To understand the drama of Jesus' story of the determined widow and the corrupt judge, it is important to appreciate the justice system of the ancient Near East. We need to forget the ordered nature of our own courts where (usually) one person speaks at a time and there is an orderly presentation of evidence by both sides of a dispute. We are a world away here from Judge Judy!
The Broad Embrace of God. What is called leprosy in the Bible may have been any skin ailment, from the dreaded disease itself to psoriasis or eczema. Such conditions were not only feared because of the possibility of contagion, but also abhorred because of the nature of their oozing sores. Besides the hygienic reason for the quarantine imposed on all those who were so afflicted, there was a religious stigma attached. Running sores kept people from participating in religious celebrations. They were thereby deemed unclean, unfit to be counted among a people who considered themselves "a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exod 19:6).