4th Sunday of Advent, Year C

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DR. BRANT PITRE

Mass Readings Explained

Notice what Micah says. He’s describing the coming of the Messiah, and look what he does. He links the prophecy of the Messiah to this image of a woman who is in travail…

First, obviously the prophecy is focused on geography. I talked about this before, geography matters. Where is Bethlehem? Well Bethlehem is in the south. It’s in the southern territory, the southern part of the holy land, which was referred to as Judah, right. So this particular town, Bethlehem, was famous not for its size, it was a small place, but for its associations with King David. So Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, it was the place of his family. And 1 Samuel 17 tells you that David lived in Bethlehem along with his father Jesse and the sons of Jesse there. So in a prophetic context when Micah brings up the city of Bethlehem, as soon as you say Bethlehem a First Century Jew would think David, the city of David, the King of David.

SOURCE: Mass Readings Explained by Dr. Brant Pitre.

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Dr. Kieran J. O’Mahony, OSA
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Portable Commentary / Sunday Readings

COMMENTARIES

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Africa Bible Commentary

Breaking Open the Lectionary – Year C

Catholic Bible Dictionary (Scott Hahn)

Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture

Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (Scott Hahn)

Life Recovery Bible

Little Rock Catholic Study Bible

New College Bible Commentary

The Word of the Lord (John Bergsma)

Word Made Flesh (Christopher West)
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Catholic Commentary on Sunday Readings (PDF)

SOURCE: Bible study program at St. Charles Borromeo (Picayune, MS) courtesy of Military Archdiocese. Sources include The Jerome Biblical Commentary, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, and The Navarre Bible, and others.

The Sunday Website

DENNNIS HAMM, SJ

Old Sons, New Key

A literal rendering of the Hebrew of Psalm 40:7 would be, “but ears you have dug for me.” That is such a blunt image that most translations paraphrase.


JOHN FOLEY, SJ

Spaciousness

I used to be resentful as the daylight hours became shorter and shorter.


DR. ELEANOR STUMP

Where the Truth Lies

Who was this Elizabeth? An ordinary Jewish woman of her time, distinguished by her barrenness and not much more.

SOURCE: The Sunday Website at Saint Louis University: This website is a service of the Catholic Studies Centre at Saint Louis University, Matthew Baugh, SJ, Director; John Foley, SJ, Editor; Eleonore Stump, Coordinator; JC McCollum, Webmaster
RICHARD Niell Donavan

The Readings in Context

FIRST READING

The first verse of this book tells us that the word of Yahweh came to Micah “in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” This was in the eighth century B.C. when Assyria was the reigning superpower.

Assyria was located in Mesopotamia, far to the east and north of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom), but Assyria’s power was such that it dominated Syria (directly to the north of Israel) as well as Israel.

Jotham inherited the throne of Judah from his father, Uzziah, about 750 B.C. and reigned for about 20 years. Uzziah had enjoyed a long and peaceful reign, but during Jotham’s reign Assyria, under Tiglath-pileser III, became quite powerful and intrusive. Israel (the Northern Kingdom) allied itself with Aram against Assyria, a move that would ultimately spell the downfall of Israel. While 2 Kings notes that Jotham “did that which was right in the eyes of Yahweh” (2 Kings 15:34), it also notes that he failed to remove the high places, which were centers of idol worship.

Ahaz succeeded his father, Jotham, about 730 B.C. and reigned over Judah for 16 years (2 Kings 16:2). He is portrayed as one of Judah’s worst kings (2 Kings 16:3-4). Ignoring the advice of Isaiah the prophet, who counseled Ahaz to remain neutral, Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me” (2 Kings 16:7). As a result, he became a vassal of Assyria. During the reign of Ahaz, Tiglath-pileser attacked the Northern Kingdom (Israel), killed many of its inhabitants, and deported most of the rest to Assyria, thus ending the existence of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom once and for all time.

Hezekiah succeeded his father, Ahaz, about 715 B.C., and reigned until about 687 B.C. While a much better king than his father, Hezekiah led a coalition in a failed attempt to rebel against Assyria. Surprisingly, Assyria did not destroy him, but it did force him to pay tribute.

The prophet Micah carried on his work in this turbulent period. In the first chapter of the book of Micah, he foretold the coming of Yahweh against Israel (vv. 3-7) and Judah (vv. 8-16). In the second chapter, he denounced the social evils prevalent in Israel/Judah. In the third chapter, he spoke of rulers “who hate the good, and love the evil; who tear off their skin, and their flesh from off their bones” (3:5)—and foretold their punishment.

Nevertheless, in the midst of all these troubles, Micah also foretold days to come when faithfulness and peace would be restored in Judah (4:1-5; see also Isaiah 2:2-4). He promised restoration after exile (4:6-13).

SECOND READING

The author is writing to Jewish Christians who are under pressure to abandon Christianity and return to Judaism.  He is trying to persuade them to remain faithful to Jesus, the perfect sacrifice and true high priest.

To accomplish this, he devotes 1:1 – 10:18 to outlining the many ways that Christ and the new covenant are superior to Moses and the old covenant.  The Son is superior to angels (1:5-14)—and Moses (3:1-6)—and the high priests (4:14 – 5:10; 7:1-28).  Jesus mediates a superior covenant (8:1 – 9:28).  His sacrifice on the cross was once-for-all, with no need of constant repetition, as was required by the old covenant (10:1-18).

The author speaks of the law as a “shadow of the good things to come” (10:1).  A shadow, of course, can be a good thing.  In a hot climate, a shadow can offer relief from the heat of the sun.  The Psalmist prays, “Hide me under the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, my deadly enemies, who surround me” (Psalm 17:8b-9).  But a shadow is fleeting, having little substance of its own, and simply points to the substantive reality that produced it.  The Mosaic Law and the salvation offered by the old covenant were only a shadow of the gift of grace offered by Jesus and the new covenant.

The author devotes 10:19 – 13:25 to:

• A call for perseverance (10:19-39)
• The meaning of faith and the faith of Abraham and Moses (11:1-40).
• The example of Jesus (12:1-13).
• Warnings against rejecting God’s grace (12:14-29).
• Service well-pleasing to God (13:1-19).
• and a benediction and final exhortation (13:22-25).

He quotes frequently from the scriptures to lend authority to his arguments.  The only scripture at that time was what we now call the Old Testament.  The New Testament was in the process of being written.

In this reading, the author quotes from Psalm 40:6-8, which celebrates deliverance from disaster.  The Psalmist affirms that God prefers obedience to sacrifices—a remarkable statement given that God instituted animal sacrifices and gave the Israelites detailed instructions on how to offer them.

However, this idea is supported by other scriptures (1 Samuel 15:22; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Psalm 50:8-14; 51:16-17; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; and Micah 6:6-8) and simply acknowledges that a person offering sacrifices in compliance with the law might just be going through the motions rather than offering true devotion to Yahweh.  Seeking to do the will of Yahweh in all things is a much higher order of devotion than merely observing the sacrificial codes.

But as we say that, we must also acknowledge that the Old Testament sacrificial system was given by God to Israel, and God expected the Israelites to be obedient to his commandments in this respect.

GOSPEL

Farris characterizes this chapter as a diptych (a pair of hinged panels revealing two related pictures) with the birth of John the Baptist on one side and the birth of Jesus on the other:

• Parallels between the two panels include the angelic announcement of the births (1:8-17, 26-33), the angel’s “Don’t be afraid” (1:13, 30), objections by Zechariah and Mary (1:18, 34), and the angel’s response to the objections (1:19-20, 35-37).

• Major differences include the contrast between Zechariah’s unbelief (1:18) and Mary’s belief (1:38)—as well as Jesus’ superiority over John, as demonstrated by the fact that Elizabeth was only aged when she gave birth to John, while Mary will give birth as a virgin to Jesus (Farris, 290-291).

Luke 1:36 identifies Elizabeth as Mary’s kinswoman or relative (Greek: sungenis), but we don’t know their exact relationship. We usually think of John as Jesus’ cousin, but that is based on 1:36, so our knowledge of their relationship is inexact. Given the age difference between Elizabeth and Mary, it seems likely that Elizabeth is a generation older—perhaps Mary’s aunt.

These stories are shot through with Old Testament allusions:

• The annunciation to Zechariah, his unbelief, and the subsequent birth of John closely resemble the annunciation to Abraham (Genesis 18:1-10), Sarah’s laughter (Genesis 18:11-15), and the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7).

• The birth of John to barren Elizabeth resembles the birth of Samuel to barren Hannah (1 Samuel 1).

• Mary’s song (vv. 46-55) is modeled on Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

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AGAPE BIBLE STUDY

Recognizing the Davidic Messiah

The Church’s Liturgy reveals the identity of the Redeemer-Messiah whose coming God promised from the time of Adam’s fall from grace (Gen 3:15), and He foretold down through the centuries through His holy prophets

In the First Reading, we learn that one of those prophets was the 6th BC-century prophet, Micah. He reveals that the Messiah is more than a mortal man; He will be a ruler whose origin is “from ancient times.” The faithful must look for His mother to give birth in Bethlehem, the city of the great King David with whom God made an eternal covenant and promised an heir from David’s lineage would rule forever.  Micah also prophesies that the Davidic Messiah’s rule will be universal, reaching “to the ends of the earth.”

Our Responsorial Psalm is from a communal lament of the covenant people when they were threatened with destruction and exile by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. They made their petition for God’s intervention to save them despite their failures, directing their plea to Yahweh’s Divine Presence enthroned above the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant. They petitioned God to send a “strong man,” a “son of man,” referring to a spiritually strong human man chosen by God and upon whom His favor rests, to save them from destruction. God sent such a man to save His covenant people at the great turning point in salvation history. “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself.  He came to save not only the “lost sheep” of Israel but to redeem all humanity. He is the Davidic prince and good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep (Ez 34:23; Jn 10:12-14), and Nations and peoples of every language serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:14).

Today’s Second Reading tells us that Jesus is that promised Davidic heir. He is both the son of David (Mt 1:1; Lk 1:31-33) and the Son of God destined to reign as an eternal King (2 Sam 7:16; Lk 1:32, 35; Rev 19:16). Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Heb 1:5; 5:5; 11:17; 1 Jn 4:9), and the New Covenant High Priest. Unlike the high priests of the Sinai Covenant, selected because of their hereditary link to Aaron the first high priest, Jesus was God’s choice like the ancient priest-king Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20; Ps 110:4), who blessed Abraham and offered him bread and wine, foreshadowing the Eucharist.

In the Gospel Reading, two mothers take center stage in Salvation History: Mary of Nazareth and her kinswoman Elizabeth, wife of the chief priest Zechariah and mother of St. John the Baptist. Mothers are the first to set a child on the path of life, and their influence can profoundly impact a child’s future.  For this reason, the books of Kings and Chronicles name the mothers of the Davidic kings who bore the heirs of the Davidic covenant. St. Matthew identifies Jesus’s mother as the virgin from Isaiah’s prophecy (Mt 1:23 and Is 7:14) who gives birth to a son in the city of David that is the Bethlehem of Micah’s prophecy in our First Reading.

Jesus’s mother, the Virgin Mary of Nazareth, is a descendant of King David (Lk 1:32); she is the first person to know His true identity, and she is His first disciple. In our Gospel Reading, when Mary visits her kinswoman Elizabeth the baby in her womb, St. John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit, leaped for joy to be in the presence of the Redeemer-Messiah in Mary’s womb. And Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared that Mary is “the mother of my Lord” (referring to God) who has honored her with His presence (Lk 1:40-45).

Do you also recognize Jesus’s true identity? Is He your Lord and your God who came to save you from your sins and set you on the path to eternal life?  If so, rejoice as St. John the Baptist and his mother rejoiced because your understanding of Jesus’s true identity as the Son of God and your personal Savior is a gift from the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit-inspired recognition is necessary to set you on the path to Heaven.

Excerpts from Michal E. Hunt’s Agape Bible Study. Material slightly reformatted. Used with permission.

FIRST READING

The Messiah from Bethlehem

IMichah reveals that the Messiah is more than a mortal man; He will be a ruler whose origin is “from ancient times.”

The 8th-century BC prophet Micah was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. His ministry lasted from c. 750 – 687 BC, during the reigns of Davidic kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah (Mic 1:1). Bethlehem was a small village about five miles south of Jerusalem in the region of Ephrath (Gen 35:16, 19; 1 Sam 17:12). It was the ancestral home of Naomi and her Judahite relative Boaz. Boaz married Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law, the Moabitess Ruth, the great-grandmother of God’s anointed, the shepherd boy who became King of Israel: David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:21-22; 1 Sam 16:1, 11-13).

Micah announced that the Redeemer-Messiah promised since Adam’s fall from grace (Gen 3:15) would be born in Bethlehem, a village in the tribal lands of Judah and the birthplace of the great King David. Like his ancestor David, He would be a future ruler from humble origins. His destiny was to rule the covenant people, but His divine authority would extend to the ends of the earth, and His mission would be to inaugurate an era of peace with God (verses 3-4a). No Davidic king or his mother fulfills Micha’s description of the promised Davidic Messiah and his mother (the “she” of verse 3) other than Jesus and Mary. Micah’s prophecy also recalls passages from Isaiah 7:14, 9:5-6, 11:1-4, and God’s eternal covenant with David that his heir would rule forever over an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7:12-16; 23:5; Ps 89:3; Dan 2:44; etc.).

Jewish and Christian traditions interpret Malachi 5:1-4 as a Messianic prophecy. The Jewish view appears in the writings of the Jewish Talmud (Pesahim, 51.1 and Nedarim, 39.2). In the New Testament, St. Matthew applies Micah’s prophecy to Mary and Jesus, quoting Micah 5:1 from the LXX (Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, which varies slightly from the Hebrew) as an Old Testament fulfillment passage (Mt 2:4-6). St. Matthew wrote: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.  Micah’s prophecy includes the powerful message that the promised Messiah is more than an ordinary man since his “origin is from old, from ancient times.” Micah’s “shepherd” imagery recalls the Messiah’s Bethlehem ancestor, the shepherd boy David, anointed by God to be a king to “shepherd” His people Israel (2 Sam 5:1-2; Mt 1:1) and his heir who God would send to “shepherd” His covenant people (Ezek 34:23-24).

Jesus identified Himself as the “Good Shepherd” (Jn chapter 10) sent by God the Father to gather the “lost sheep” of the house of Israel (Mt 10:6; 15:24; 18:11; Lk 15:6). And when the Magi came seeking the newborn King of the Jews, St. Matthew recorded that the chief priests advised King Herod of the prophecy identifying Bethlehem of Judea as the birthplace of the Messiah, quoting Malachi 5:1 in Matthew 2:6. St. John’s Gospel also records the opinion of the religious leaders’ response to Jesus coming from the Galilee, objecting that He could not be the Messiah when they protested: Is the Christ to come from the Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ [Messiah] is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was? (Jn 7:40-42).

Christian tradition has always interpreted Micah 5:1-4 as a prophecy of the birth of the Christ/Messiah in Bethlehem. “Christos” is the Greek word Christians used for the Hebrew word Mashiach, “Messiah.” “Bethlehem” is a village whose name means “house of bread.” It is a meaningful name for the birthplace of the One who announced that He came as the “bread of life” for the salvation of humanity. After the miracle feeding of the five thousand, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst (Jn 6:35); it is a promise He fulfills in the miracle of the Eucharist. Early Christian apologist Tertullian (c. AD 155- c. 197) wrote: “Since the children of Israel accuse us of grave error because we believe in Christ, who has come, let us show them from the Scriptures that the Christ who was foretold has come … He was born in Bethlehem in Judah, as the prophet foretold: ‘But you, O Bethlehem are by no means least …’ (Mal 5:2)” (Adversus Iudaeos, 13). And St. Irenaeus (c. AD 135- c. 202) wrote: “In his day, the prophet Micah told us of the place where the Christ would be born: Bethlehem, in Judah. ‘O Bethlehem … too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel.’ Bethlehem is also the homeland of David, and Christ was from the line of David, not only because he was born of the Virgin, but because he was born in Bethlehem” (Demonstratio praedicationis apostolicae, 63).

Excerpts from Michal E. Hunt’s Agape Bible Study.Material slightly reformatted. Used with permission.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM

Turn to the Lord and See His Face

Response: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face, and we shall be saved.”

At the great turning point in salvation history, God will send a “Son of Man,” who was also a son of David, to save His covenant people. 

Psalm 80 was a communal lament of the covenant people when they were threatened with destruction and exile by the Assyrians in the 8th-century BC. It was a threat resulting from the people’s failure to obey the Law of the Sinai Covenant. In the ratification of the covenant treaty at Sinai, God promised obedience would bring His protection and divine blessings, but disobedience would result in judgments against the Israelites, who would suffer all the ills of their pagan neighbors (Lev 26; Dt 28).

When the United Kingdom of Israel split into the two kingdoms of the Northern Kingdom Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, the people of the Northern Kingdom were rebellious and apostatized from their covenant with Yahweh. They were no longer obedient to God’s laws. They abandoned the Temple in Jerusalem, established a separate non-Aaronic priesthood, and worshiped Yahweh together with false gods whenever and wherever they pleased (1 Kng 12:26-32; 13:33; 2 Kng 17:7-23). The Southern Kingdom of Judah remained loyal to the Davidic kings but also fell into periods of apostasy until a good Davidic king emerged to take the throne and call them to repentance and covenant restoration, holding back God’s hand of judgment.

In verse 2, the covenant people acknowledge that they are still the flock of God’s pasture and God is their Divine Shepherd who ruled over them (see Ps 79:13 in the previous psalm). They made a petition for God’s intervention to save them despite their failures, directing their plea to Yahweh’s Divine Presence enthroned above the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the covenant people’s most sacred shrine kept in the Holy of Holies of Yahweh’s Temple in the Southern Kingdom of Judah’s capital, the city of Jerusalem (Ex 25:10-17, 22; 26:34).

The people complained that because God was angry with them, He had broken down the wall protecting the once splendid “vine” of Israel that He redeemed from Egypt and planted in the Promised Land of Canaan (verses 15-16). The “vine” is a metaphor for Israel that frequently appears in Scripture and is one of the recurring symbolic images of the prophets (see Is 5:1-7; 27:2-5; Jer 2:21; Hos 10:1; and in the New Testament Mt 21:22). The people petitioned God in verses 16 and 18 to send a “strong man,” a “son of man,” referring to a spiritually strong human man, chosen by God and upon whom His favor rests, to save them from destruction. They were probably thinking of a “son of man,” who is another like the great King David who ruled the United Kingdom of Israel in the late 11th century BC. Then they promised if God sent such a man to save them, they would repent, turn once again to God, and be obedient to His covenant (verse 19).

At the great turning point in salvation history, God will send a “Son of Man,” who was also a son of David, to save His covenant people. “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite title for Himself (He uses it for Himself about 80 times in the Gospels). Jesus came to save not only the “lost sheep” of Israel but to redeem all humanity with a gift of “new life” (petition in verse 19) and fulfill the prophet Daniel’s vision of “one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” to whom God gives “dominion, glory, and kingship” (Dan 7:13). Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:12-14). His Kingdom of the Church fulfills Daniel’s prophecy of the “Son of Man” who ascended into Heaven (Acts 1:9-11) and where Nations and peoples of every language serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:14).

Excerpts from Michal E. Hunt’s Agape Bible Study.Material slightly reformatted. Used with permission.
SECOND READING

Consecrated Through the Messiah to do God’s Will

Today’s Second Reading tells us that Jesus is the promised Davidic heir.  

The “he” who came into the world in verses 5-9 is Jesus Christ, and it is Jesus who is the implied speaker. The inspired writer’s argument concerning the imperfection of blood sacrifice is that God rejected animal sacrifices as a means of atoning for sins when He sent His Son as the single unblemished sacrifice to redeem humanity from the curse of sin. Under the old covenants, the expiation for sins was never in the animal’s death but through the repentance, humility, and submission before God of the person offering atonement (1 Sam 15:22; Hos 6:6).

The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews identified David as the writer of Psalm 95 in Hebrews 4:7 and 3:7 (David is the inspired writer of many psalms). St. Peter will quote Psalm 16:8-11 and attribute it to David, who he calls a prophet in Acts 2:25-28 from the LXX (Ps 15:8-11 in LXX). What is “written in the scroll” (Heb 10:7) refers to the Law of the Torah/Pentateuch that predates the Psalms, written centuries after God gave the Law at Mount Sinai. The Psalms were primarily written from the time of King David and during the period of the United Monarchy. It is likely that “the Law” of the Sinai Covenant is the subject of “the scroll.” “The Law” is also the scroll or book mentioned in Hebrews 9:19, and the inadequacy of Mosaic Law to bring salvation is a significant theme in the Letter to the Hebrews. If the commands and prohibitions of Mosaic Law foreshadowed what Jesus accomplished in His self-sacrifice, then Jesus is, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, uniquely qualified to speak to us prophetically through His ancestor David concerning the imperfection and inadequacy of the Levitical animal sacrifices, which were only a shadow of what was to come through His sacrifice (Col 2:17).

The writer of Hebrews quotes from the Greek Septuagint version (LXX) of the Old Testament in verses 7-9a (verses 6-8 in some translations) from Psalm 40 in our translations, but 39:7-9 in the Septuagint. The chapter and the later verse divisions were not included in Bibles until the 13th and 17th centuries AD. The Jewish Masoretic Version was a revised Old Testament text dating to the Middle Ages. In contrast, the Septuagint text predated Christ and was the main translation used in Jesus’s time and quoted in the New Testament. Differences appear in the phrase “but a body you prepared (fashioned) for me,” missing from the Jewish Masoretic version. It is a significant variation since the New Testament writer of Hebrews identifies this passage as a prophecy of the Incarnation and Christ’s submission to the will of the Father in His self-sacrifice.

Masoretic Septuagint New American
Psalm 40:6-8
“Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you dug ears for me; whole burnt offerings (holocausts) and sin offerings you did not request.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come, it is written about me, in the [head of the] scroll of the book.  To do your will, O my God, I delight.'”
Psalm 39:7-9
Sacrifice and offering you did not want, but you fashioned [katartizo] a body for me; whole burnt offerings (holokautoma) and sin offerings you did not request.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come, it is written about me in the head of the book [scroll].  To do your will, O my God, I intend…'”
Hebrews 10:5b-7
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared [katartizo] for me; holocausts (holokautoma) and sin offerings you took no delight in.  Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the [head of the] scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'”

 

“Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'”

The Greek translation of “as is written of me in the scroll” is instead “as it is written of me in the head of the scroll” (IBGE, vol. IV, page 601). The “head” may refer to the knob at the top of the wooden rod upon which the leather scroll, with the sacred words of God, was wound. In other words, the “part” which is on the stick containing the whole text may signify the “whole” of Sacred Scripture that is about Christ.

Jesus taught the Apostles in Luke 24:25-27 and 24:44-45 that everything written in the Scriptures was about Him. The writer of Hebrews believed this included Psalm 39 in the Septuagint (Greek) translation, Sacred Scripture that identifies the inadequacy of all the old Sinai Covenant sacrifices and offerings. It also points to a time from before the Incarnation of Christ when sacred Scripture alluded to the coming of the Messiah to fulfill the Law and do God’s will.

St. Paul wrote about Christ’s death as the fulfillment of Sacred Scripture: For I handed on to you as of first importance which I also received: That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4). In connecting the passage from Psalm 39 in the LXX to Jesus, the inspired writer of Hebrews emphasizes not only the fulfillment of Scripture but Jesus’s complete submission to the will of God as He prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking, it, your will be done!” (Mt 26:42). And as St. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:8, Jesus completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father because he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.  

Assuming Psalm 39/40 dates to King David’s time, the reference to Scripture may be to Deuteronomy 18:18-19 when God told Moses and the people, I shall raise up a prophet like yourself; I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command him.  If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it. In the event of the Transfiguration, a voice from Heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him It was a divine command the three Apostles, Peter, James, and John heard (Mt 17:5, emphasis added).

Psalm 39 from the Septuagint also emphasizes that the performance of Mosaic Law’s external demands only pointed to what God required, which was an inward change as expressed by the prophet Hosea ~ For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts (Hos 6:6)Jesus submitted His life to the will of God to transform hearts and bring about what the old law wasn’t capable of achieving. Only Jesus, through the purification of His atoning sacrifice, could fulfill what the law could not. Jesus made statements to this effect in the Gospels:

  • Matthew 5:17 ~ “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
  • Matthew 9:13 ~ “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’…” (Jesus quoting from Hosea 6:6).

First, he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. 10 By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
These verses offer a teaching on the passage from Psalm 39:7-9 from the Septuagint version of Sacred Scripture. And they also connect that passage to the words of the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:22 ~ Does the LORD so delight in holocausts and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the LORD? Obedience is better than sacrifice and submission than the fat of rams.

God chose Samuel to anoint the young David as the King of Israel (1 Sam Chapter 16). Samuel was also David’s teacher. According to Psalm 39 LXX, David certainly learned about animal sacrifice versus human submission and obedience from Samuel.

What does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says God took away “the first to establish the second”? What is the first; what is the second? Under the commands and prohibitions of the Old Covenant sacrificial system, there were various kinds of sacrifices (see the chart on the Levitical Offerings and Sacrifices). The writer of Hebrews mentions two types of animal sacrifice:

  1. Animal sacrifices where the altar fire consumed the whole animal, known as a “holocaust” or “whole burnt” offerings.
  2. Sin sacrifices in which the sinner confessed his sin over the animal, and the animal then died in his place. The animal’s blood “covered” the sin of the repentant individual as a priest poured it out from a chalice at the altar and its fat burned in the altar fire (the chief priests ate the remaining cooked meat of this sacrifice with their families).

The flesh and blood of animals were not what God desired. He wanted repentant and purified hearts cleansed of sin: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire (verse 8 quoting from Ps 40:6-8 LXX). Therefore, God provided the perfect sacrifice: but a body you prepared for me that was the Incarnation of the Son. In the self-sacrifice of the Son, God removed the necessity of imperfect animal sacrifice, offering instead the flesh and blood of God the Son, the unblemished Lamb of God. He established the one perfect and eternal sacrifice for the atonement and sanctification of humanity. Through the obedient will of Jesus to offer Himself up as a sacrifice, we have been consecrated (Heb 10:10)Jesus fulfilled the will of God who then abolished the old, imperfect ritual sacrifices to establish an eternal sacrifice for the sanctification of believers (Mt 18:14; Gal 1:4; Eph 1:5, 9, 11) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all (Heb 10:10) to bring man to salvation:

  • In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost (Mt 18:14).
  • grace and peace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins that he might rescue us from the present evil age in accord with the will of our God and Father (Gal 1:3-4).
  • He destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved … he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will (Eph 1:5-6, 9-11).

The old Sinai Covenant Law served its purpose as a tutor and a guide to prepare God’s covenant people to understand the necessity of repentance and blood sacrifice in atonement for sins, to provide a path to holiness as preparation for the Gospel, and to recognize the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah. However, it was deficient because it could not offer the gift of eternal salvation or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which become the gifts in the New Covenant Kingdom that is the Church of God the Son (see CCC 1963-64).

Excerpts from Michal E. Hunt’s Agape Bible Study.Material slightly reformatted. Used with permission.

GOSPEL

The Visitation: Mary Journeys from Nazareth to the House of Elizabeth

Two mothers take center stage in Salvation History: Mary of Nazareth and her kinswoman Elizabeth, wife of the chief priest Zechariah and mother of St. John the Baptist..

After the angel Gabriel’s visit at the Annunciation, Mary immediately set out from Nazareth in Galilee to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth in Judea. She probably joined a caravan traveling to Jerusalem, making the 7-8-day journey to a town in the hill country of Judea. According to a Christian tradition that predates the Crusades, Elizabeth and her husband, the priest Zechariah, lived in Ein Kerem, about four miles west of Jerusalem (Shrines of the Holy Land, pages 125-29). After the covenant people returned from the Babylonian exile, the Book of Nehemiah records that the chief priests took up residence in or near Jerusalem (Neh 11:3).

As was the custom, Elizabeth was in seclusion for the first five months of her pregnancy, as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value, but four months as we count (Lk 1:24). It was the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, but the fifth month, as we count (Lk 1:36), when Mary traveled to visit her relative immediately after the Incarnation.  Mary’s desire to see her kinswoman was probably prompted by the Holy Spirit as well as by her need to share her experience with someone who would understand.

42 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
When Mary entered the house, and Elizabeth first heard Mary’s voice (Lk 1:40), the fetus of St. John the Baptist, recognizing the presence of his Lord, leaped for joy within his mother’s womb (Lk 1:41, 44). The unborn St. John’s response to Mary and the unborn Christ recalls God’s words to Jeremiah: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you (Jer 1:5). Think of the horror of abortion taking place daily as children, personally known by God from the womb and given as His holy gift, are violently murdered before (and in some cases after) their birth.

In Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit-inspired greeting to her kinswoman, she gave three blessings in verses 42-45:

  1. She blessed Mary.
  2. She blessed Jesus.
  3. She blessed the faith God gave Mary.

Elizabeth’s third blessing for Mary: Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled was because of her belief in contrast to Zechariah’s unbelief (Lk 1:18-20). Mary is the first Christian. Her belief does not waver during the years of Jesus’s ministry or His Passion. She also faithfully prayed together with those who believed and waited for the coming of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) in the Upper Room forty days after Jesus’s Ascension and fifty days after His Resurrection (Acts 1:13-14).

43 And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Bible scholars (both ancient and modern) noticed the similarity between Elizabeth’s rhetorical question in Luke 1:43 and King David’s rhetorical question in 2 Samuel 6:9 when he said: How can the Ark of the Lord come to me? David was speaking of the Ark of the Covenant. They saw Elizabeth’s question as an intentional comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of God among His people. See the chart on Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant). Verse 56 appears to confirm the comparison where Mary remained in Elizabeth’s house in the Judean hill country three months or two months as we count, just as the Ark stayed in the Judean hill country house of Obed-edom for the same length of time in 2 Samuel 6:11.

When Elizabeth said, “my Lord” in verse 43 and “the Lord” in verse 45, she referred to Jesus in verse 43 and God in verse 45. She refers to the Divinity of Jesus and, therefore, to Mary as “the mother of God.”  By the strength of Elizabeth’s statement, prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Council of Ephesus declared Mary the “Mother of Jesus” and the “Mother of God” in AD 431. CCC 495: “Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus,’ Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord.’ In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos).” Also, see CCC 466495, and 509.

From what Elizabeth said in verse 45, she knows what the angel Gabriel told her husband and what the angel told Mary. It is knowledge imparted to her by the Holy Spirit in the moment of her joy, but other information must also have been shared with her by her husband (see Lk 1:60 where she knows the child’s name before Zechariah’s speech returned). For other references to the expression “fruit of your womb” in Scripture, see where God promised to bless Israel for covenant obedience: He will love and bless and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the produce of your soil (Dt 7:13). Also, see Psalms 127:3 where Children too are a gift from the LORD [Yahweh], the fruit of the womb, a reward. Therefore, to reject the birth of a child is to reject a gift from God.

Like the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth knew Jesus’s identity as the Divine Messiah and Son of God. It was a revelation the angel Gabriel shared with Mary at the Annunciation that was later revealed to her kinswoman Elizabeth by the Holy Spirit at Mary’s visitation. Has the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus’s true identity to you, and do you believe He has the power to save you from your sins? Do you recognize His visitation in the miracle of the Eucharist when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to greet you as a disciple and nourish you on your journey to salvation? If so, share that joy with everyone you meet, for you are keeping company with saints and angels in the knowledge the Holy Spirit has revealed to you!

Excerpts from Michal E. Hunt’s Agape Bible Study.Material slightly reformatted. Used with permission.
EDRIANNE EZELL

From the Womb

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VINCE CONTRERAS

Joyful Anticipation of the Messiah

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MEDITATION: Why did thousands come out to hear John the Baptist? And what was so unusual about his message? Luke says that John “preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:17). John’s message of repentance was very practical…

FATHER EAMON TOBIN

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FOCUS STATEMENT: Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete (“Let us rejoice!”) Sunday, we are rejoicing because our salvation is near at hand. A spirit of joy pervades the first and second readings as well as the psalm. In the Gospel, John responds very concretely to people who ask him: “What must we do?”

FATHER CLEMENT THIBODEAU

Echoing God’s Word

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Micah 5:14 A new “King David” will come from Bethlehem.
Hebrews 10:5-10 Christ came as one of us to make us one with God.
Luke 1:39-45 Mary hears God’s will for her and accepts it.
Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19 Shepherd of Israel, come to shepherd your people.

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Lectio Divina Meditation

“Lectio divina,” a Latin term, means “divine reading” and describes a way of reading the Scriptures whereby we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us. In the 12th century, a Carthusian monk called Guigo, described the stages which he saw as essential to the practice of Lectio divina. There are various ways of practicing Lectio divina either individually or in groups but Guigo’s description remains fundamental. READ MORE

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Luke 1:39-45

39. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40. And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

41. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42. And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44. For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

COMMENTARY

AMBROSE. The Angel, when he announced the hidden mysteries to the Virgin, that he might build up her faith by an example, related to her the conception of a barren woman. When Mary heard it, it was not that she disbelieved the oracle, or was uncertain about the messenger, or doubtful of the example, but rejoicing in the fulfilment of her wish, and consicentious in the observance of her duty, she gladly went forth into the hill country. For what could Mary now, filled with God, (plena Deo) but ascend into the higher parts with haste!

ORIGEN. For Jesus who was in her womb hastened to sanctify John, still in the womb of his mother. Whence it follows, with haste.

AMBROSE. The grace of the Holy Spirit knows not of slow workings. Learn, ye virgins, not to loiter in the streets, nor mix in public talk.

THEOPHYLACT. She went into the mountains, because Zacharias dwelt there. As it follows, To a city of Juda, and entered into the house of Zacharias. Learn, O holy women, the attention which ye ought to shew for your kinswomen with child. For Mary, who before dwelt alone in the secret of her chamber, neither virgin modesty caused to shrink from the public gaze, nor the rugged mountains from pursuing her purpose, nor the tediousness of the journey from performing her duty. Learn also, O virgins, the lowliness of Mary. She came a kinswoman to her next of kin, the younger to the elder, nor did she merely come to her, but was the first to give her salutations; as it follows, And she saluted Elisabeth. For the more chaste a virgin is, the more humble she should be, and ready to give way to her elders. Let her then be the mistress of humility, in whom is the profession of chastity. Mary is also a cause of piety, in that the higher went to the lower, that the lower might be assisted, Mary to Elisabeth, Christ to John.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. iv. in Matt.) Or else the Virgin kept to herself all those things which have been said, not revealing them to any one, for she did not believe that any credit would be given to her wonderful story; nay, she rather thought she would suffer reproach if she told it, as if wishing to screen her own guilt.

GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) But to Elisabeth alone she has recourse, as she was wont to do from their relationship, and other close bonds of union.

AMBROSE. But soon the blessed fruits of Mary’s coming and our Lord’s presence are made evident. For it follows, And it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb. Mark the distinction and propriety of each word. Elisabeth first heard the word, but John first experienced the grace. She heard by the order of nature, he leaped by reason of the mystery. She perceived the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord.

GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) For the Prophet sees and hears more acutely than his mother, and salutes the chief of Prophets; but as he could not do this in words, he leaps in the womb, which was the greatest token of his joy. Who ever heard of leaping at a time previous to birth? Grace introduced things to which nature was a stranger. Shut up in the womb, the soldier acknowledged his Lord and King soon to be born, the womb’s covering being no obstacle to the mystical sight.

ORIGEN. (vid. etiam Tit. Bos.) He was not filled with the Spirit, until she stood near him who bore Christ in her womb. Then indeed he was both filled with the Spirit, and leaping imparted the grace to his mother; as it follows, And Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. But we cannot doubt that she who was then filled with the Holy Spirit, was filled because of her son.

AMBROSE. She who had hid herself because she conceived a son, began to glory that she carried in her womb a prophet, and she who had before blushed, now gives her blessing; as it follows, And she spake out with a loud voice, Blessed art thou among women. With a loud voice she exclaimed when she perceived the Lord’s coming, for she believed it to be a holy birth. But she says, Blessed art thou among women. For none was ever partaker of such grace or could be, since of the one Divine seed, there is one only parent.

BEDE. Mary is blessed by Elisabeth with the same words as before by Gabriel, to shew that she was to be reverenced both by men and angels.

THEOPHYLACT. But because there have been other holy women who yet have borne sons stained with sin, she adds, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Or another interpretation is, having said, Blessed art thou among women, she then, as if some one enquired the cause, answers, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb: as it is said, Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord. The Lord God, and he hath shewed us light; (Ps. 118:26, 27.) for the Holy Scriptures often use and, instead of because.

TITUS BOSTRENSIS. Now she rightly calls the Lord the fruit of the virgin’s womb, because He proceeded not from man, but from Mary alone. For they who are sown by their fathers are the fruits of their fathers.

GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Geometer.) This fruit alone then is blessed, because it is produced without man, and without sin.

BEDE. This is the fruit which is promised to David, Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne. (Ps. 132:11.)

GREEK EXPOSITOR. (Severus.) From this place we derive the refutation of Eutyches, in that Christ is stated to be the fruit of the womb. For all fruit is of the same nature with the tree that bears it. It remains then that the virgin was also of the same nature with the second Adam, who takes away the sins of the world. But let those also who invent curious fictions concerning the flesh of Christ, blush when they hear of the real child-bearing of the mother of God. For the fruit itself proceeds from the very substance of the tree. Where too are those who say that Christ passed through the virgin as water through an aqueduct? Let these consider the words of Elisabeth who was filled with the Spirit, that Christ was the fruit of the womb. It follows, And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

AMBROSE. She says it not ignorantly, for she knew it was by the grace and operation of the Holy Spirit that the mother of the prophet should be saluted by the mother of his Lord, to the advancement and growth of her own pledge; but being aware that this was of no human deserving, but a gift of Divine grace, she therefore says, Whence is this to me, that is, By what right of mine, by what that I have done, for what good deeds?

ORIGEN. (non occ. vide Theoph. et. Tit. Bost.) Now in saying this, she coincides with her son. For John also felt that he was unworthy of our Lord’s coming to him. But she gives the name of “the mother of our Lord” to one still a virgin, thus forestalling the event by the words of prophecy. Divine foreknowledge brought Mary to Elisabeth, that the testimony of John might reach the Lord. For from that time Christ ordained John to be a prophet. Hence it follows, For, to, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded, &c.

AUGUSTINE. (Epist. ad Dardanum 57.) But in order to say this, as the Evangelist has premised, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, by whose revelation undoubtedly she knew what that leaping of the child meant; lamely, that the mother of Him had come unto her, whose forerunner and herald that child was to be. Such then night be the meaning of so great an event; to be known indeed by grown up persons, but not understood by a little child; for she said not, “The babe leaped in faith in my womb,” but leaped for joy. Now we see not only children leaping for joy, but even the cattle; not surely from any faith or religious feeling, or any rational knowledge. But this joy was strange and unwonted, for it was in the womb; and at the coming of her who was to bring forth the Saviour of the world. This joy, therefore, and as it were reciprocal salutation to the mother of the Lord, was caused (as miracles are) by Divine influences in the child, not in any human way by him. For even supposing the exercise of reason and the will had been so far advanced in that child, as that he should be able in the bowels of his mother to know, believe, and assent; yet surely that must be placed among the miracles of Divine power, not referred to human examples.

THEOPHYLACT. The mother of our Lord had come to see Elisabeth, as also the miraculous conception, from which the Angel had told her should result the belief of a far greater conception, to happen to herself; and to this belief the words of Elisabeth refer, And blessed art thou who hast believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told thee from the Lord.

AMBROSE. You see that Mary doubted not but believed, and therefore the fruit of faith followed.

BEDE. Nor is it to be wondered at, that our Lord, about to redeem the world, commenced His mighty works with His mother, that she, through whom the salvation of all men was prepared, should herself be the first to reap the fruit of salvation from her pledge.

AMBROSE. But happy are ye also who have heard and believed, for whatever soul hath believed, both conceives and brings forth the word of God, and knows His works.

BEDE. But every soul which has conceived the word of God in the heart, straightway climbs the lofty summits of the virtues by the stairs of love, so as to be able to enter into the city of Juda, (into the citadel of prayer and praise, and abide as it were for three months in it,) to the perfection of faith, hope, and charity.

GREGORY. (super Ezech. lib. i. Hom. i. 8.) She was touched with the spirit of prophecy at once, both as to the past, present, and future. She knew that Mary had believed the promises of the Angel; she perceived when she gave her the name of mother, that Many was carrying in her womb the Redeemer of mankind; and when she foretold that all things would be accomplished, she saw also what was to follow in the future.

SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.

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