God In Control

Monday of Week 3 in Advent

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17 & Matt. 21:23-27

When the Israelites were about to pass through Moab on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land, Balak, the Moabite king, feared that they would take over his country. He commissioned Balaam, a pagan diviner or seer, to curse the Israelites and render them powerless, but God would not permit Balaam even to utter the words of a curse. Four times he made the attempt, but on each occasion his words were turned into a blessing. A person does not usually like someone put words in his mouth, but that is what happened to Balaam. Today’s lesson summaries two of his oracles.

The Balaam incident symbolizes God’s providential care of His people and the fact that salvation comes from His power alone and not from any human resources. By all odds the Israelites should have vanished from the earth long before the coming of the Messiah. Apart from the golden era of David and Solomon, their history was generally marked by religious infidelities and military defeats culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Living in a tiny land, bereft of many natural resources and surrounded by powerful and hostile neighbours, the Jews were the last people that human wisdom would have chosen as the source of the Messiah-King. Only God had the power to lead Israel to its fulfilment in the coming of the Jesus Christ.

God’s ways are not our ways. The Church, the New Israel, has survived for twenty centuries. It began in Jerusalem with a small band, the most part simple unassuming people. From there it has spread over the world. At times the Church has been rich and influential, at times poor and persecuted. Through it all the power of God has been at work, despite human weakness and corruption, and His power alone will bring the Church to its golden age in the second coming of Jesus Christ.

In the first reading we have seen God in control leading His people to the Promised Land. Now in the Gospel we see Jesus, God’s Son, in control and He is not prepared to justify His actions to the Jewish leaders who have closed their ears to anything He has to say. At first glance the objection voiced by the Jewish leaders in today’s gospel seems reasonable enough. Jesus had just driven from the temple those engaged there in buying and selling, and was now teaching in the temple precincts. In the eyes of the Jewish leaders, Jesus was no more that an itinerant preacher, and they demanded to know by what authority he was interfering in the activities of the temple. What is little surprising is that Jesus rather than offering an explanation, chose to embarrass them with His question about the Baptist and then refused to answer their demand.

The Jewish leaders were the only people with whom Jesus was abrupt and even harsh at times. Since they had closed their eyes to what He had done, Jesus knew that they would close their ears to anything He would say. They of all people should have been able to read the meaning of the signs since they professed to be experts. They just could not bring themselves to believe that God was at work in this ordinary, untutored Carpenter from Nazareth. They had blinded themselves by their smugness.

The marvel of Christmas is that God comes to us in the flesh of a baby. He continues to come to us in the unpretentiousness – one is tempted to say the plainness – of the Eucharist. Only faith can see through the veils of the humanity of Jesus, and only faith can see beyond the appearances of bread and wine. But faith is not for the smug, the sophisticated, the self-reliant. It is for those who are willing to respond to the wonderful simplicity of God’s almighty power at work among us.