A scholarly attempt at an interpretation of Sunday's liturgical readings.

In order to understand what the Gospels are saying about Jesus, it is first necessary  to understand the relationship between the Old Tetament and the New Testament.  At the time of Jesus’ ministry, there was no New Testament.  There were only the Jewish scriptures called the TaNaK.  Torah (=Law, the first five books of the Bible, what we Christians call the Pentateuch); Nebiim (=the Prophets); and Nebiim (=the other writings.) We Christians call the TaNaK the Old Testament.

After Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, a tremendous impact had been made on his disciples.  Many of them had witnessed his life, miracles, death, and resurrection, so they were most anxious to share the Jesus experience with others.  But the only scripture available to them was the TaNaK.  Thus they looked for corresponding themes between the TaNaK and their “Jesus event”  to come up and explain who Jesus was.

For us Catholics, the Sunday worship service has a liturgyof the Word and a liturgy of the Eucharist.  The liturgy of the Word normally has a reading from the Old Testament, and two from the New Testament (the first, a reading from the Pauline corpus, the second from one of the Gospels.)  Usually, there is a thematic correspondence between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel.

In the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, the Old Testament reading is from the book of Isaiah (35:1-6), and the Gospel reading is from Matthew (11:2-11).  Undoubtedly,  there are several corresponding themes in both readings.  But one that is quite significant for me is the corresponding theme of SALVATION, viewed in two aspects, namely, Salvation by name, and Salvation by the working of wonders.

First, Salvation by name.  The Hebrew word for “save” is yasha‘.  This is the root for the names of Isaiah and Jesus.  Isaiah spoke about salvation in the future (35:4).  Throughout his Gospel, Matthew also speaks about salvation in the future (through Jesus), most notably in the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Advent (3:1-12).

Second, Salvation by working wonders.  Assuring the people Israel that salvation would come, Isaiah indicated that it would be accompanied with wonderful works, namely, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the mute will speak (35:5-6).  In Matthew’s Gospel (11:2-11) when John’s disciples asked Jesus “Are you the one who is to come…?” Jesus answers by referring to his own experience of working wonders on others.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see…”  The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and other wonders (miracles) indicating that salvation has come.

What can we learn from these readings of Isaiah and Matthew?  One thing we can learn is that in order to understand what is said about Jesus in the Gospels,  is better understood when we have a better grasp of the Old Testament background.

Another thing to be learned is to be aware that the chief liturgical seasons of the year (Advent-Christmas; Lent-Easter; Pentecost) celebrate something important in the life of Christ.  For example Advent/Christmas celebrate the theological concept of “God with his people” (which is what the word Immanuel means.)   Isaiah speaks about Immanuel and what he will do (Isaiah 7-12).  Lent/Easter focuses on Jesus as the Suffering Servant, the one who suffers for others.  Isaiah (43-53) often speaks of the Suffering Servant.  The prophet Jeremiah is also seen as a model for Jesus in his last days.

Consequently, when one encounters the admonition “Study the Bible,” the entire Bible is meant.  This is so because  as we fully experience the liturgical cycle, we who claim to be true disciples of Jesus, can answer the question posed to Jesus by John’s disciples, namely, “Are you the one who is to come?”  The affirmative answer will say that because of our Baptism we have come and will continue to go representing Jesus wherever we go.

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