Monday of the Third Week of Advent
(Numbers 24:2-17.15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)
Christians have adopted Balaam’s prophecy in today’s first reading as referring to Jesus. The king rising “higher” is Christ. The one who is to come but “but not now” is the same. Jews interpret the vision differently. They understand the one who will have an “exalted” royalty as King David. He is “not near” since he was born several hundred years after the prophecy.
So why do Christians insist that they have the correct interpretation? It is because Jesus has shown that he is the great king who has finally arrived. By all he says and does in his ministry and most of all by his resurrection from the dead, they know that Jesus reigns forever. As their sovereign, he will protect them from ultimate harm.
Today’s gospel shows the Jewish leaders trying to trap Jesus in his words. They refuse to accept his kingly authority and try to prevent others from following him. We also can withhold belief in Jesus by quibbling over the proper referent of Balaam’s prophecy or some such discrepancy in Scripture. But surely the better alternative is to be like Matthew, the gospel writer, and the Christian community. Accepting Jesus as Lord, we will put ourselves on a firm foundation of love and justice. We will know the joy of being saved and of having eternal life as our destiny.