This week, we get a little closer to the coming of the Lord. The readings last week focused on how it is that we are to prepare for Jesus’ coming in glory, but this week, the readings talk to us about He who will judge.
The beginning of the First Reading, from the prophet Isaiah in the 600s BC, identifies who it is that will come to judge: “A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse.” What is that and why is that a “who”? Isaiah is using agricultural language to talk about the line of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David in the Old Testament. That makes David the shoot: He who came from Jesse. But it’s not King David that will come to rule the nations at the end of time when “the moon fails,” it will be the Davidic King, Jesus.
Isaiah draws out two things very poetically, which will be an easy occasion for us to divert our attention to the spider-webs on the Church ceilings if we don’t have a clue of what’s going on in the reading. The first thing Isaiah draws out is how it is that Jesus will judge: Using all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that will rest upon Him (this might remind you of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that you learned about in Confirmation). “He does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay, but judges the wretched with integrity.” Jesus is always the perfect judge because He knows our hearts better than we do and it is our hearts, as well as our actions, that He will judge.
The second thing that Isaiah draws out for us is what it will be like after the judgement: It will be just like it was in the beginning. “In the beginning,” in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, there was no death. Man did not eat animals, nor did other animals eat each other. All of life fed on the vegetation of the land. Read the first chapter of the entire Bible, Genesis 1, and see for yourself. The Lord will restore this peace to the fullest and Isaiah explains this in poetic imagery: “The wolf lives with the lamb, / the panther lies down with the kid, / calf and lion feed together, / with a little boy to lead them.” There is so much to say about this! Let this suffice: Who is it that shall enter the Kingdom of God? Those who make themselves like little children (See Matthew 19:14). We see here, in beautiful imagery, that we, as small children of our heavenly Father, shall lead the way in His restored Kingdom.
In his days justice shall flourish, and peace till the moon fails.
In the Second Reading, St Paul speaks to us very plainly and will be easier for us to follow. He encourages us never to give up. He reminds about how the Scriptures, which to St Paul meant the Old Testament, give us examples “of how people who did not give up were helped by God.” This ought to be us. As Jesus says in Matthew 10:22: “He who endures till the end will be saved.” St Paul also reminds us in the reading, “It can only be to God’s glory… for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you.” Let us ask ourselves this week, “How did Christ treat me? How does Jesus treat me?” I know the answer can be daunting, but His grace that He gives us in His precious body will see us through if we cooperate. Let us persevere and never give up — God will help us.
In the Gospel, St John the Baptist has some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees, who were not even trying to live righteous lives, that came presuming mercy from him. He fiercely warns them that they should repent and produce good fruit. We can apply these words to ourselves, especially in the season of Advent. We too must bear good fruit. “Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees.” This sounds like the shoot that will come from the Jesse tree in the First Reading. It’s meant to! This is because St John the Baptist reminds us that it’s the shoot of Jesse’s tree, i.e. Jesus, that will alone bear fruit unto eternal life — If we are not united to Jesus, then we will never bear good fruit. He Himself says in John 15: “ I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.”
Here’s a fun fact that will actually mean something to our lives: There in John 15 Jesus uses the word “abide,” which means ‘to take up one’s dwelling in.’ The only other place where Jesus uses this word in a symbolic sense in the entire four Gospels is in John 6:56 where He says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” This begs the question and answers it for us: It is through the Eucharist that we take up our dwelling in Jesus. It is through His most precious body and blood that we become united to Him like branches to a vine. It is only through this “great Sacrament” that we will come to “produce the appropriate fruit” that the Baptist speaks of.