The Common Good
November 2009

Our Redemption Draws Near

by Michaela Bruzzese | November 2009

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle B & C

As we end the liturgical year, we prepare for the gospel’s final portrayal of Jesus—as Christ the king—and for a new year with Luke as our guide. Mark’s Jesus, as described in preceding weeks, is anything but a traditional king. Rather, this king weeps with those who mourn and seeks out those bound by the cords of death, calling them to the new life of resurrection. He condemns a religious system that leaves poor widows destitute, and saves his most passionate criticism for those who not only exploit the vulnerable, but do so in God’s name. When the disciples behold the new temple in awe, Jesus assures them that it will be leveled by God’s new reign, confirming that his kingdom is different. It is built not on structures of power, dominance, and exploitation, but on love and concern for the least of these.

This final portrayal of Jesus comes as he prepares for his throne, the cross, where he will accept the forces of violence and death in body and spirit so that their power over us will end. Christ emerges victorious, resurrected—our true and only king! We are ready to start the sacred journey of Advent, when this ruler of all is born as a helpless child.

Redeemer, counselor, Emmanuel, God-with-us, God comes to us anew: “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” Rejoice!

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

November 1
'Come Out'
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6; John 11:32-44

Jesus' command to Lazarus (John 11:43) is symbolic of the invitation he issues to all the imprisoned, forgotten, left behind, left for dead, abandoned, and alone. Jesus calls those who, lured by the empty promises of false gods—power, things, money, prestige—are now bound by them. The God who weeps with us comes looking for us and rolls away the stone, no matter how far gone we are: “Come out!”
This is also the day we celebrate all saints, the ragtag family of believers whose lives and examples help us hear Jesus’ call and find the way out of these caves of death. Though the circumstances of their imprisonment vary, each had in common faith enough to leave his or her securities, false gods, and addictions, and risk everything when Jesus called. When they confessed Jesus as “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6), they were freed from the fear of everything in between, freed to live the gospel with reckless abandon.
Declarations of sainthood, however, need not be left to the experts. All that is required is the willingness to answer Jesus’ call and to help bring the new life of resurrection to those who still suffer. Through the saints, and us all, God continues to fulfill the promise first made in Jesus: “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Come out! Jesus is waiting.

November 8
King of Justice
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Having always reserved his most vehement criticism for religious leaders who exploit the vulnerable in God’s name, Jesus now warns his followers against church leaders’ hypocrisy and self-aggrandizement. Not only do they “like to walk around in long robes … and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets” (Mark 12:38-39), but to do so, they “devour widows’ homes” (Mark 12:40).
Although the story of the widow’s mite has traditionally been interpreted as Jesus praising the widow’s extreme generosity, many theologians insist that Jesus is actually condemning a system that is based on the exploitation of the vulnerable—and then disguised as God’s will. According to Walter Burghardt, SJ, “this widow had been taught and encouraged by religious leaders to donate as she does and Jesus condemns the value system that motivates her action ... In a word, Jesus is condemning a structure of sin, a social injustice.” In a world where too many leaders, religious and secular, gain and wield power at the expense of the weak, Jesus exposes such systems for what they are—an affront to God—and what they do: destroy right relationships, dignity, and even bring death.
Jesus dismantles this system by taking its violence upon himself, then defeats it in the resurrection. Jesus was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28). In doing so, Jesus reveals that his reign is characterized not by the ability to wield power, but by his determination to liberate those oppressed by it.

November 15
God’s Treasure
1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

Legend has it that St. Lawrence, a third-century deacon in Rome, was martyred when, commanded by Roman authorities to hand over the church’s riches, he responded by gathering the city’s lame, sick, poor, and excluded, presenting them as the church’s real treasure. Jesus makes a similar point to the disciples. Dismissing their awe at the sight of the stunning new temple, he assures them that “all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). God abides in the temple of humanity, not in buildings—especially those built through the exploitation of the weak and poor, as this temple was. Jesus’ description of the temple’s destruction also implies that his way, the way of the cross, is so contrary to existing power structures that the two can’t coexist. When God’s reign takes hold, the result will be cataclysmic: “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines” (Mark 13:8).
Jesus also takes aim at false prophets who will try to exploit his name: “Beware! ... Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (Mark 13:6). Both warnings convey the same message: The reign of God is diametrically opposed to structures of exploitation and injustice, especially those done in the name of God. Any religion that does not put God’s treasure—the least of these—first will only lead many astray. Beware!

November 22
Christ the King
2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132:1-18; Revelation 1:4-8; John 18:33-37

Traditional kingship, characterized by absolute power, material riches, and exploitation of the weak, has nothing to do with the Jesus of Mark’s gospel; it’s a concept Jesus himself shunned (John 6:15). Traditional kings demand allegiance and servitude, but Mark’s Jesus is about liberation—from suffering, sickness and even death, exclusion, persecution, and our own egos and selfishness. This is who serves the least of these, and who finally gives his body and blood so that others may live. Understood this way, we not only rejoice in the concept of Christ as king but we understand it as fundamental to our discipleship. With this Christ there is no room for the worship of false gods; by definition, there is no one or nothing else more deserving of our praise, attention, or energy. This good news compels us, feeds us, directs us, and fulfills us.
As Mark has shown us the past few weeks, Christ’s kingship is fundamentally at odds with traditional structures of power; for this reason, Jesus tells Pilate that “My kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36). As heirs to Jesus’ kingdom, we are commissioned to bring the good news to this world daily, in acts large and small, public and private. We are ambassadors of the new reign, privileged to share the mercy, love, peace, and justice of Christ with the world.

November 29
‘Raise Your Heads!’
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Though the last few weeks of Mark’s gospel have hinted at it, we are still unprepared for Luke’s jarring preparations for the one who is both king and newborn child. Luke wants us to be awake and aware—not even “the worries of this life” (Luke 21:34) should distract us from what is really important. Our salvation comes, “the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31)! Luke warns us not to give in to our fears during the worst of times—public and private apocalypses, calamities, and disasters. If we are truly faithful, we must stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28).
The one who was last week crowned our king prepares to come again as a helpless infant, born in a stable to poor parents. God chose this way, the most profound among so many others, to offer Godself to us once more: powerless, dependent, vulnerable. Paul, whose discipleship was born from and defined by the shock of his own encounter with Jesus, knows that God’s birth among us was not a one-time event, but something that occurs any time we come together in God’s name. Thus Paul’s prayer is not for himself, but that “the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you” (Thessalonians 3:12).

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