Advent Devotion - Saturday, December 9

from Vagel Keller

Ezekiel 36: 

Verses 24-28, For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

Ps 85: 

Verses 1-2, You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.  You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins.

Verses 8-13, I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly.  Surely his salvation is near those who fear him that his glory may dwell in our land.  Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.  The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.  Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.

Mark 11: 

Verses 27-33, They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”  Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”  They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’  But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)  So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”  Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Reflection:  These scriptures, each concerning faith – or the lack thereof – among mankind in God's word, are from three distinct periods in the history of the Jewish people.  Ezekiel prophesied during the exile of Judah in Babylon.  Psalm 85 on the whole is, according to an article on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, "a national lament reminding God of past favors and forgiveness" reflecting "the conditions of Judea" a century or so later following the return from exile as the Jews struggled to rebuild Jerusalem from ruins.  Read it in its entirety, and you'll see what the author means.  Mark wrote his Gospel several hundred years later, during the century following the fulfillment of God's promise through the birth, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus (which Jewish religious leaders were still trying to come to grips with).  What emerges from these scriptural passages is the reason for the lack of faith by Jewish religious leaders in Jesus as the Messiah:  they had lost sight of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God.

The interrogation of Jesus in Mark 11: 27-33 came a day or two after He had stormed through the temple grounds, overturning the tables of the moneychangers, as if to say,

"NO!  You don't get it!  Salvation is not just about going through the motions:  keeping the Sabbath, eating the right foods, going to church on religious holidays, and doing all those other things My Father had the patriarchs write down.  You have to BELIEVE!  In your hearts!  All yearlong!  That's what He meant when He told Ezekiel, 'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,' and almost in the same breath, just to be clear, 'I will put MY spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.'  Look at Psalm 85, the part that says, 'Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.'  Do you want to know why there's no peace in Judea, why there's a Roman legion stationed a day's march away from the temple?  It's because you've 'turned to folly.'  Look what you've done!  You've turned my Father's house into a market place!"

He might also have added, "By the way, don't worry about the Romans; I'll take care of them later."  (And He did, although it was in a way far different than the 1st-century Judean insurrectionists could imagine, and, as usual, patient faithfulness was required; see Constantine, AD 312.)

The exchange between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees showed that they still didn't get it.  Their fear of how the people would respond revealed that their interests were in preserving their earthly authority more than in saving their immortal souls. 

As we participate in our annual ritual celebration of the fulfillment of God's promise to mankind through the birth of Christ, let's not forget that we also must keep God's spirit in our hearts all day, every day, all yearlong.  Others will see that and perhaps in seeing they, too, might come to understand the true peace that can only come from faith in God's holy word.

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