I also have to admit that what those who select the daily readings chose as readings for the day discourages me as well. The last word of the first reading from Malachi is "doom." Scripture scholars say that some scribes were so concerned that the last word of the last of the prophetic books not end with the word "doom" that they took it upon themselves to repeat the earlier verse about Elijah as the last verse. Further, the gospel reading, that begins with rejoicing at the birth of John the Baptist, ends with fear descending on the people. These readings are all the more remarkable because the readings for the last days of the Church's liturgical year, days that anticipate and remind us of the end of time and so are apocalyptic and eschatological, speak of the need to be watchful, but to be watchful for the arrival of the promised kingdom and the arrival of light and life. Who would want to be the only day that closes with a prophecy of doom and the descent of fear?
Now clearly those liturgists who choose the daily scripture readings mean well because they would be giving me the chance to tell people about the messenger promised to appear before the arrival of the terrible day, whom the Old Testament identifies as Elijah and whom the New Testament identifies as John the Baptist. However, even that possibility is only a small consolation. For, much like the day itself, they appear as folks who are to be bypassed so as to get to the real thing. John says about himself that he must decrease so that the one who follows him might increase. And does not Jesus say about John that even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John? No, I am not too sure that I want to be this liturgical day.
However, as I continued to think and pray about the readings, I was reminded of what one of the Jesuit scholastics said about having to "jump into one's own shadow" in order to grow and also of those scribes of the Old Testament who did not want to end on the note of doom. Most likely I want to skip the shadow, and the doom, and the fear because I have experienced them and know that I do not want them. However, my experience of them is what makes sense of the waiting. Knowing what I do not want at least helps redirect me toward what I do want. I do want the light and the life and the celebrating. I want what the Psalmist reminds us is close at hand. The experience of being this kind of a liturgical day may at least open the gap that lets that desire enter and with that desire will come hope.
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