Monday of the Third Week of Advent
(Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)
In today’s gospel the chief priests and elders ask Jesus by whose authority he performs his marvelous deeds. Although Jesus adroitly sidesteps the issue because of the malicious intent of the questions, it is one that should preoccupy us during Advent. How does Jesus accomplish such mighty works? In Jesus’ reply to the Jewish leaders, he refers to John’s preaching. We can find here a hint for our reflection on Jesus’ authority. But first it would be helpful to examine the reference to Balaam in the first reading.
Balaam was a holy man who lived in Palestine just before the Israelites occupied the territory. When Balak, the king of the Moabites, saw the oncoming Israeli hordes, he summoned Balaam to curse the intruders. His hope was that a holy man’s curse would provide him the margin of victory. Balaam, however, will not comply with the king wishes because he sees that God favors the Israelites. The rising star which he sees in the heavens represents the ascendency of Israel’s prominence in the land.
Just as Balaam recognizes the coming of Israel to dominate Palestine, John the Baptist sees one coming after him who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. He is not sure exactly who the coming one is. In fact, he may be disappointed to hear of the lack of righteous indignation with sin in Jesus’ message. The fire and Spirit, which John foretold, turn out to be Jesus’ life-giving actions of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoral to wholeness. Unlike John, a prophet who speaks under God’s authority, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom with his own divine authority.