Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17 / Matthew 21:23-27

The same dynamic we heard yesterday, the refusing of what seem on the face of it perfectly legitimate and reasonable questions, is echoed in the Gospel we hear today. Yesterday, it was John the Baptist's less than helpful initial responses to the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem. Today, it is Jesus himself who refuses to answer the questions posed by the chief priests and the elders. What they ask is to know his authority, by what authority he claims to act and speak as he does. Why does he not simply answer their question? Why does he respond, if it is not too impertinent to say, with such petulance? "I'll answer your question if you answer mine first," hardly seems a perfectly mature retort.

Yet, while on the face of it the chief priests and elders ask a legitimate and reasonable question, the fact is, and Jesus clearly knows this, the chief priests and elders are not at all interested in the truth. They do not ask out of wonder, of hope, or of longing to know. For them, truth is merely an instrument, an object to be used to come to other ends altogether unrelated to the truth itself. We see this in the argument they have among themselves. In figuring out how to respond to Jesus' question about the origin, of heaven or of men, of the Baptist's ministry, not one of them stops to wonder what the true answer to this question might be. Indeed, they are not even interested in figuring out what they think the answer to be. Rather, they calculate, they instrumentalize, figuring out what answer will give which outcome, and how best to balance out foreseen gains and losses.

The chief priests and elders of Israel have ironically become like the false prophet Balaam. Balaam was a prophet of a sort, but rather than speaking so as to draw people closer to God and turn away from their sins, he wanted to use prophecy as a tool for gain, selling a prophetic curse in the name of the Most High to the highest bidder. When God chose instead to fill Balaam's mouth with blessings for Israel and a true prophecy of Israel's hope, the truth did Balaam no good. Likewise, even had the chief priests and elders received from Jesus the truth about his authority, they could not, remaining as they were, have benefited from the truth even in the least.

In Jesus Christ, it is revealed to us that the truth is not a commodity or a weapon, not a means to winning arguments or putting people in their place, nor some kind of indifferent object able to serve whatever ends we seem. Rather, the truth is grounded in love, grounded in the communion of Persons that is the Holy Trinity. May this Advent open our hearts to receive God's truth, wherever we may hear it, not to serve our ends, but rather to welcome it joyfully as a gift from him who is Truth itself, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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