SUNDAY SCRIPTURE

Surprise, surprise

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The readings today announce good news that answers some of our greatest desires. But it is surprising in more ways than one.

What we would like is a world justly ordered for the benefit of everyone, a world at peace.

Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who spent a lot of time giving people a piece of God’s mind about the unjust mess they had made of their society, communicates a promise from God that he is going to set things right.

God is going to send an agent of his purposes who will “judge the poor with justice” and “strike the ruthless” and “slay the wicked” (Is 11:4).

When he’s done with his work of helping the oppressed and shutting down oppressors, the world will be a place of peace. Clearly, the Creator has great and surprising plans for his human creation.

In the Gospel, another prophet, John the Baptist, proclaims that this agent of God is about to arrive. “His winnowing fan is in his hand,” John declares. “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12).

John warns that no one should presume that he or she will be on the right side of this judge when he comes. Not those who belong to a religious community but those who “bear good fruit” — living justly and lovingly with others — will be gathered in. And here another surprise: This executor of God’s purposes who is about to appear is Jesus of Nazareth.

And then, in a way that puzzled even John (see Mt 11:2-3), Jesus did not set about knocking the powerful from their perches and putting the poor in their place. Rather, he offered everyone — rich and poor, oppressors and oppressed — the opportunity to repent, the gift of forgiveness and an invitation to join him in a peaceful revolution of society, flowing from God’s love for every person.

Eventually, Jesus will clear his threshing floor, judging the poor with justice and striking the ruthless. In the meantime, we can ponder the revelation of God’s deep concern for justice among us. We can ask his Spirit (see Is 11:2-3) to help us see our part in the coming of his peaceful and just realm today.