Sunday Bible Reflections
The first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem we hear about in today’s First Reading, decided the shape of the Church as we know it.
Some Jewish Christians had wanted Gentile converts to be circumcised and obey all the complex ritual and purity laws of the Jews.
The council called this a heresy, again showing us that the Church in the divine plan is meant to be a worldwide family of God, no longer a covenant with just one nation.
The Liturgy last week revealed the mystery of God’s plan—that in Jesus all peoples, symbolized by the Magi, have been made “coheirs” to the blessings promised to Israel. This week, we’re shown how we claim our inheritance.
Jesus doesn’t submit to John’s baptism as a sinner in need of purification. He humbles Himself to pass through Jordan’s waters in order to lead a new “exodus”—opening up the promised land of heaven so that all peoples can hear the words pronounced over Jesus today, words once reserved only for Israel and its king: that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God (see Genesis 22:2; Exodus 4:22; Psalm 2:7).
An “epiphany” is an appearance. In today’s readings, with their rising stars, splendorous lights, and mysteries revealed, the face of the child born on Christmas day appears.
Herod, in today’s Gospel, asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. The answer Matthew puts on their lips says much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise—one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting “a ruler of Israel” who will “shepherd his flock” and whose “greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth” (see Micah 5:1–3).
Why did Jesus choose to become a baby born of a mother and father and to spend all but His last years living in an ordinary human family? In part, to reveal God’s plan to make all people live as one “holy family” in His Church (see 2 Corinthians 6:16–18).
In the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, God reveals our true home. We’re to live as His children, “chosen ones, holy and beloved,” as the First Reading puts it.
On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church’s Liturgy reveals the true identity of our Redeemer:
He is, as today’s First Reading says, the “ruler . . . whose origin is from . . . ancient times.” He will come from Bethlehem, where David was born of Jesse the Ephrathite and anointed king (see Ruth 4:11–17; 1 Samuel 16:1–13; 17:1; Matthew 2:6).
The people in today’s Gospel are “filled with expectation.” They believe John the Baptist might be the Messiah they’ve been waiting for. Three times we hear their question: “What then should we do?”
The Messiah’s coming requires every man and woman to choose—to “repent” or not. That’s John’s message and it will be Jesus’ too (see Luke 3:3; 5:32; 24:47).
Today’s Psalm paints a dreamlike scene—a road filled with liberated captives heading home to Zion (Jerusalem), mouths filled with laughter, tongues rejoicing.
It’s a glorious picture from Israel’s past, a “new exodus,” the deliverance from exile in Babylon. It’s being recalled in a moment of obvious uncertainty and anxiety. But the psalmist isn’t waxing nostalgic.