The Lesson of Advent
A street has to be built. From all the corners of the earth to Jerusalem.
According to Baruch, God is the contractor: He speaks and all obstacles give way. In the texts of other prophets God assigns this construction project to the people: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths”. That is not a contradiction – God builds and those who let themselves be gathered together build for Him. That is the great lesson of Advent. We have to make each move God makes, and He makes each move we make when we trust in Him. tac
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on forever the splendor of glory from God: Wrapped in the mantle of justice from God, place on your head the diadem of the glory of the Eternal One. For God will show your splendor to all under the heavens; you will be named by God forever: the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship. Rise up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from east to west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you carried high in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain and the age-old hills be made low, that the valleys be filled to make level ground, that Israel may advance securely in the glory of God. The forests and every kind of fragrant tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with the mercy and justice that are his.
Before the time of Christ again?
The New Year of 2019 will be greeted with many expectations and fireworks, while the start of the new church year will be comparatively quiet. Are we expecting someone?
Should we roll out the red carpet for the “righteous shoot” Jeremiah talks about, or for the Son of Man arriving on a cloud? Are we maybe taken back to the waiting room, to the time before Christ’s arrival? Advent does not mean future arrival, but presence. Benedict XVI reminded us: What, or who, we are expecting is already present, for example in the great saints. Paul says it like this: “You received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God.” Then we have adventus medius, not in the future, not in the past, but in the present. ars
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Finally, brothers, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God—and as you are conducting yourselves—you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. This was Jesus of Nazareth’s concept of man in the language of the gospel of John. 1200 years later the theologian Thomas Aquinas concluded from this: Any truth, no matter who speaks it, comes from the Holy Spirit.
Does this not appropriate the searchers for truth, the defenders of justice and human rights activists and turn them into anonymous Christians? No. The question of truth lifts the biblical faith out of the world of religions. Faith no longer means: Being a specialist in religious matters. Having antennas for the otherworldly. Listening to your inner self and wanting to find the mysteries of the world there. The faithful are connected to all searchers for truth though the questions: What is right? What corresponds to reality? What really helps? Jesus’ word indicates an alliance with reason. acb
So Pilate said to Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
The Messiah waits
“He is seated at the right hand of God”, it says in the Apostles’ Creed. The Letter to the Hebrews specifies this: “He took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits”. The Messiah waits?
He waits for his once-for-all act to have its effect. The entire history of Israel has come to a head in the existence of the Messiah Jesus. He did not spare his life and through this he created a breach in the wall of hatred towards him and his people. Thus, it is permanently made possible for everyone to implement a new way of life. hak
Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no longer offering for sin.
The all-changing First
What the Old Testament prophet Elijah asks of the widow from Zarephath is not difficult: bake bread for him. There is a decisive condition though: it has to be done first. That changes everything.
First or afterwards? There one can see what really counts. Often the decisive things do not get a chance because they are considered subordinate: after feathering one’s own nest, after everything is sorted out, after this life. With this widow it is different: She goes and does as Elijah has told her. She first gives God’s story a chance and afterwards she takes care of her own things. Surprisingly, her own things turn out for the best then, too. ruk
The prophet Elijah arose and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called out to her, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a crust of bread.” She said, “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a few sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Afterwards you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says: The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” She left and did as Elijah had said. She had enough to eat for a long time—he and she and her household. The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD spoken through Elijah.
What does it even mean to “love God”?
The scribe wants to test Jesus’ orthodoxy. His question about the most important commandment aims at the center of theology: What does God want from us?
Jesus quotes from Israel’s bible. But as a Fortschreibung of the original text he adds to how people should love God: “with all your mind.” And he adds another accentuation. He combines the main commandment form Deuteronomy with the one of loving your neighbor from Leviticus and moves both of these to first place: “There is no other commandment greater than these.” What does that mean? It means that the way to God leads through the world. bek
One of the scribes saw how well Jesus had answered them and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Because salvation must be seen
If the healing of the blind man is not merely an isolated scene, but gospel within the gospel, then the blind Bartimaeus is a special patient.
He can hear, he can talk, he can even scream, he can beg and maybe he gets everything he needs, he even has a coat. He just can’t see. This reminds us of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which is about man’s search for knowledge and truth. In contrast to the people in the allegory, however, this man senses that seeing clearly is what matters, especially when Jesus walks by. We should be able to see what God does, how he acts and approaches people, after all. And that he sees means that he goes with him, freed from the prison of sitting in one spot. And he goes to Jerusalem with Jesus and sees more and more: the last supper, the cross and the resurrection. tac
They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Not like this
What is negotiated in today’s gospel could be translated with “the alternative”. But that does not really work, since there already is a party claiming that world for itself, at least in our country.
The reader of the gospels often encounters James and John, the sons of Zebedee, together with Peter, as those three whom Jesus prefers, for example when he climbs the mount of transfiguration. Apparently this got to their heads and they forehandedly declare their wishes for the seats of honor, which they derive from their closeness to Jesus. They are deceiving themselves. All twelve need to rethink. They have understood nothing, even though they have already been on the road with Jesus for some time. Only later do they realize: He laid the foundation for a different life. An alternative for many. ars
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The coming world
Aren’t the phrases coming world and eternal life, which are mentioned at the end of Sunday’s gospel, those used up words that discredited the biblical faith as the drug of empty promises?
A coming world that one can only enter after death, where surprisingly everything would be better than it is here, would be ridiculous. The Baalschem, a well-known Jewish rabbi, who thought about this, said to himself: “If I love God, then what do I need a coming world for?” Loving God, living according to his commandments, this is exactly that world that comes into our now and here and changes this world. That is what the coming world is like; it is otherworldly because so different, but in the world. acb
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through [the] eye of [a] needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
Seen from the beginning
The problem of divorce is an age-old topic. In the Judaism of the turn of the eras there was a traditional and generally accepted view on this ascribed to Moses.
Jesus also draws on Moses. And he leads the listeners further into the context of the commandment and makes the original intention of the creator accessible. In the issue of matrimony his intention aims at the personal unity, which the man cannot just take charge of. The woman is equally responsible, as Jesus explains to the surprised disciples. He confidently names the intention underlying the Tora and reveals the wisdom of the creator that is at work within the law. hak
The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Blessing of the Children. And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child* will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.