An approach from the rear can prepare us for Advent
By Father Joseph Brando
What we have here before you is an analysis of the next two months’ Sunday Mass readings. It starts at the 26th Sunday of the Church’s Ordinary Time (Oct. 1) and continues until the last Sunday of the ecclesial year at the feast of Christ the King on Nov. 26. This approach from the rear can help us to prepare our way to Advent, which will commence Dec. 3. We all know well that Advent prepares us for Christmas. With this meditation we can bolster ourselves through the season in which the forces of commercialism and mercantilism continue their pursuit on diverting our mindset from our Lord and our growth toward unity with Him to purchasing as many costly presents as we can afford.
We set out on this quest with the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time. The New Testament reading contains one of Paul’s most beautiful passages, his “Philippian Hymn.” In it Paul tells us that Jesus was equal to God and could have done anything. Rather than give extraordinary gifts, Jesus laid down his life to the Father for the sake of humanity. What a great way to prepare ourselves for Advent. Let’s work on giving our lives to God for the sake of our family members and for all of humanity, which are suffering from disasters both natural and manmade.
Then, we can go on to the Gospel where we can find Jesus telling us the parable of the two sons. Here, one son refused to work for his father and, later, changed his mind. The other son declared he would work, but he did not go to work. Jesus then asked his listeners and us “which of the two did his father’s will?” This season before Advent would be a good time for us to answer that question for ourselves. Are we are doing the Father’s will?
We move on to the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time. There, the Scripture readings directly confront the attitude the world is trying to put into our hearts. The first reading has the prophet Isaiah compare Israel to a vineyard that God spent time and effort to make the cherished sign of His Kingdom. But the people of Israel made it into a land of sour grapes. They wanted to do as they pleased with their vineyard. What they should have done is practice justice and judgment in God’s vineyard. Their decisions brought bloodshed and outcry. Our choices will determine what we are giving God for his projects.
In the continuation of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, he writes us not to be anxious. That’s just what the TV commercials are attempting to do. They pressure us to desire expensive gifts. Rather, Paul admonishes us to be at peace now and abide in that state of thanksgiving throughout the gift-giving time.
The 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time turns our attention toward feasts. There are certainly a lot of Christmas parties now being scheduled to which we are likely to receive an invite. How do they fit in with our growth in Christ? In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies about feasts. His point is that we have choices about which “feasts” we should attend. Our answer is to choose those parties that exalt the Lord our God. There, we can truly rejoice that our Lord has come to save us.
The responsorial psalm teaches that we should attend the feast that is completely free of all fear, even though we walk in a dark valley and are in the sight of our foes. We should dine at the table the Lord sets for us. St. Paul backs up the psalmist by witnessing to the glorious riches that wait for us at Christ’s table.
The Gospel also features a feast. This is the parable of the feast given by a king in honor of his son. The king, surprisingly, invited many who refused to come and evicted one who wore the wrong clothing. This feast was meant to proclaim the son as heir to the king. Wearing the colors of an opposing contender would be to protest the marriage of the prince and his succession. I hope none of us would attend functions that do not recognize Christ as king.
We now continue on to the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time. There we should be amazed that Cyrus, leader of the Persians and Medes, is God’s chosen one. He freed the Israelites (in particular the people of Judea) from the Babylonian captivity. Probably, Cyrus didn’t know how high an office God gave him by releasing his people and returning them to Judea. Nevertheless, let the joy of the upcoming Christmas preparation be open to all. Perhaps many will be drawn to the Church by a proper exaltation of Christ, the Lord.
In today’s Gospel we get an early glimpse as to how the Pharisees ultimately responded to the presence of the Son of God coming to redeem them. They wanted to trick him into some statements that would ruin Jesus’ high reputation among the people. Their trap was to make Jesus have to choose between Caesar’s face on a coin and the Jewish prohibition of any coinage with peoples’ faces on them. It was idolatrous. Jesus’ answer was to indicate that once you take advantage of Roman wealth to build up Israel, then you’re stuck with accepting their coinage, faces and all. For us, this season, we need to ask who or what will benefit by the things we buy. Is it the government, or some companies of questionable objectives, or other entities that strive to help make our world a better place?
The 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time falls on Oct. 29. The first reading from Exodus reminds us of a Christmas back in Victorian England. It encourages us to do good to widows and orphans, and to lend money to poor neighbors. God is exhorting His people to be compassionate. This is a good time to remake our lives into models of mercy. Paul spells out almost the same message to the Thessalonians. They “serve the living and true God… whom he raised from the dead, Jesus.” We should start to do likewise as the days of Advent draw near.
As we begin the month of November, the language of the Scripture readings grows stronger. Our holiday plans had better include improving our lives. Malachi admonishes us: “Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?” Now is a great time for us to do as Malachi suggests. It would make December a much happier time than usual.
Paul shows the Thessalonians how to accomplish what Malachi ordered. Paul was gentle, yet he worked hard day and night caring for his children in the faith.
The final message is left to Jesus. He encourages his listeners to be humble; for, the greatest among you must be your servant. As we start now to practice humility, pray we reach that goal before Advent and enjoy the real meaning of Christ’s birth.
We now enter November. Nov. 5 is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. With the feasts of Thanksgiving and Christmas on our horizon, we need to develop our personality so that we recognize that all humans have the same Father who created every one of us. All people are kin to us. We should act accordingly. What Malachi taught us in the first reading, Paul continues to teach to the Thessalonians. He goes so far as to write, “We were gentle among you as a nursing mother cares for her children.” Would that all human beings were that close! Especially with Christmas drawing near. In the Gospel, Jesus himself proclaims to his future church that all members are brothers and sisters. Thus, the greatest among us must be your servant. With Christmas within sight the most important item on our gift list is our own life made gentle into a figure of the baby Jesus.
On the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Scripture readings begin with the Book of Wisdom. It teaches that wisdom is the perfection of prudence. That is, when confronted with two extremes, wisdom directs us to the midpoint where both alternatives meet. There we can proclaim the best of both worlds.
The Gospel sets up a wedding party of bridesmaids who carried ceremonial lamps for the coming of the wedding party. The five wise ones brought extra candles. The five foolish ones did not. Accordingly, the foolish did not gain entrance to the party. This goes to show us that wisdom looks not to the present but to the future and the alternatives it offers. It demands that we stay awake. Let’s stay awake as Christ draws near. He is the path to the joy this feast has in store for us.
The 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time gifts us with a course in patience. The first reading offers us the example of a worthy wife. She is constantly ready to rescue her household with the results of her many crafts. She doesn’t depend on charm or beauty. What gains her praise is serving others. Your Christmas plans may very well be all set, but making a list and checking it twice would be what the wise person would do.
Paul has the same advice to the Thessalonians about the last day: be alert and sober and stay in the daylight. That attitude is true wisdom and will allow us to be ready to enter the Kingdom.
It also highlights the Gospel reading, which presents the parable of a man giving a large amount of money to each of three servants. The one who did nothing gained nothing. He was afraid of the future. The one most rewarded at the master’s return was the one who realized his master was proactive in his handling of money. So, he copied him and doubled his money. He was assured that he would succeed. He probably had alternate plans if the first plan started to fail. He was praised for being good and faithful. He was also wise, assured, sober, and alert.
We have now come to the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Appropriately, the Church dedicated the day to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In a way, it is the grand conclusion of Ordinary Time. It answers the question: What will the end be like?
One answer comes out of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “In Christ shall all be brought to life…Christ, the first fruits; then at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father.”
Another answer can be found in today’s Gospel. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels with him he will sit on his glorious throne and all the nations will be assembled before him.”
Then, he will separate them into two groups much like the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The separating factor was whether they practiced the works of mercy.
Let’s see if, by this Christmas season, we can manage to develop the wisdom to live our lives in such a manner we can look forward to the Last Day with true joy.
Father Brando is retired from the active priesthood in the Diocese of Knoxville.