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Saturday – Second Week – Advent
Readings: Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:9a, 10-13.
Reading 1 (Sir 48:1-4, 9-11):
In those days,
like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you
and who falls asleep in your friendship.
Gospel (Mt 17:9a, 10-13):
As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh M. Tien, O.P.
I. THEME: The prophet Elijah and John the Baptist
The prophet Elijah lived in the reign of king Ahab (874-853 BC), a prosperous time in material but deteriorating in spiritual dimension. The king got married with the princess Ideven, the Sidon king’s daughter, and publicly declared to worship Baal. He established an altar to worship Baal in the temple which he built at Samaria (1 Kgs 16:30-33). Because of him, most people turned their backs to God and to worship foreign gods. The prophet Elijah was sent by God to reprimand the king and to advise people to return to God.
John the Baptist lived in the time during which the Jews were dominated by the Roman empire, and all people are looking for the Messiah’s coming to liberate people from the Roman empire and to reign over them. John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare a way for the Messiah to come. People were flocked to him to hear his preaching, to confess their sins, and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
These two persons had many similarities: mortified eating and drinking, living in desert, and wearing camel hair clothes; their preachings were like burning fire; their missions were to prepare for God to come. They were prepared people by their preaching in order to turn the heart of the father to the son. Today readings are centered around their lives. In the first reading, the author of Sirach talked about the prophet Elijah’s life. In the Gospel, Jesus talked about John of Baptist’s life. Jesus declared and his disciples recognized John the Baptist is the prophet Elijah whom the Jewish tradition believed that he will come to prepare a way for the Messiah.
1/ Reading I: The prophet Elijah’s life
1.1/ The Elijah’s appearance: He appeared in a fire (Sir 49:1) and also disappeared in a fire. His preaching was burning up like a fire; “his word burned like a torch.” There are not many who worked many miracles like him. Some of his miracles were mentioned in 1&2 Kings.
(1) He closed the heaven’s door so that there was no rain in 3 years during Ahab’s reign. Sirach repeated what has been mentioned in 1 Kings (cf. 1 Kgs 17:1-18:46): “He brought a famine upon them, and by his zeal he made them few in number. By the word of the Lord, he shut up the heavens.”
(2) He commanded the Zarephath widow’s jar of flour shall not be run out and her cruse of olive shall not be spent, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth; because she trusted in his word and baked bread for him to eat (1 Kgs 17:14).
(3) He also in the name of God resurrected the widow’s son after three times he lied on the top of him (1 Kgs 17:1-24).
(4) He prayed and commanded fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice offering in his competition with the prophets of Baal and Asherah gods, in order to show that Israel’s God is the only true god (1 Kgs 18:23-38).
(5) Three times, he called fire from heaven to burn up three officers and their 150 soldiers who were sent by the king to seize him. On the fourth time, the sent officer must beg him, instead of commanded him, he and his soldiers could escape of burning by fire from heaven (2 Kgs 1:1-15); only after that, the prophet agreed to meet king Ahaziah.
In all prophets of the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah was considered the most well-known one because all miracles he worked, as the words of Sirach praised him: “How glorious you were, O Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! And who has the right to boast which you have?”
1.2/ Elijah’s departure: After completed his mission, Elijah was not died as human fate, but carried away by God as the author of Sirach described: “You who were taken up by a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with horses of fire.” No one knew where God took him to; many said he was hidden in a high mountain. The Jewish tradition believed he wasn’t died and shall come back before Messiah’s coming to prepare his way. They also believed Moses wasn’t died; therefore, in the Temple, there were always two emptied chairs: one for Moses and one for Elijah.
1.3/ Elijah’s coming back: Since he wasn’t died, Elijah shall come back as Sirach described: “You who are ready at the appointed time, it is written, to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the heart of the father to the son, and to restore the tribes of Jacob. Blessed are those who saw you, and those who have been adorned in love; for we also shall surely live” (Sir 48:10-11). The prophet Malachi also reported Elijah’s coming back in the supplementary part (Mal 3:23-24).
2/ Gospel: John the Baptist is the prophet, Elijah.
Today passage of Matthew happened after Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. The disciples have seen and heard Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah. As the Jews, the disciples knew what tradition believed about Elijah. So, they asked Jesus: “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He replied, “Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also, the son of man will suffer at their hands.” Through this reply, Jesus would like to tell his disciples two things:
(1) The tradition is right because it believed Elijah shall come to prepare the Messiah’s way: John the Baptist called himself the herald to prepare a way for the Messiah when he was questioned by the scribes and the Pharisees: I am “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mat 3:3). The way he prepared for the Messiah is to prepare people’s mind so that they are worthy to welcome Christ. After having heard Jesus’ explanation, the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. He is the prophet, Elijah.
(2) The tradition is wrong in believing the way the Messiah and Elijah shall use to liberate people. The Jews believed they shall use power to destroy unbelievers; but Jesus and John the Baptist used sufferings and sacrifices to win over unbelievers. Jesus came, not to destroy sinners but to bring them back to God by his love and painful death on the cross. As the world used power to kill John Baptist, they shall also use their power to kill the Messiah.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– The prophets were sent because people have gone astray. Their duty is to use preaching and miracles to lead people back to God.
– The way to lead people back to God isn’t by force; but by preaching of truth with love and forgiveness.