Memorial of St. John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church
(Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)
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 horde, he summoned Balaam to curse the intruders. Balak’s strategy was that a saint’s curse would provide him the margin of victory in war with the newcomers. Balaam, however, could not comply with the king wishes because he saw how God was favoring the Israelites. The rising star which he saw in the heavens represented the ascendency of Israel’s prominence in the land.
Christians at least since the time of the writing of Matthew’s gospel view the star as a reference to Jesus. He is the light shining from the Jewish people to guide the world in righteousness.
The gospel today shows us to take Jesus’ seriously. Many have trivialized the salvation which he offers by reducing Christmas and, indeed, Christianity to nostalgia. As the passage demonstrates, Jesus can outwit sanctimonious adversaries who mean trip him up. He also provides us the capacity to prevail in our struggle with sin.