The first reading is from a little known Old Testament prophet, Zephaniah. He appears to have been a contemporary of Jeremiah in the seventh/sixth century before Christ. The Book of Zephaniah has only three chapters and today’s text is one of only two that make it into the Lectionary. The other text, Zephaniah 3:14-18a, is a call for the people to rejoice. We hear it read on the Third Sunday of Advent, as well as on the Monday of the Fourth week of Advent, and on the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our text is read only today, and, after reading it, I wonder how the people might respond to the other text that invites them to “Shout for joy, O Daughter Zion!” Israel is rebellious and polluted. She does not listen to God. She refuses to be corrected. She trusts in herself and does not call upon God. Yet the Lord makes her some mighty promises. She will be changed and purified. She will become humble and lowly. She will not be ashamed of her words or her deeds. God promises to protect her and holds out for her a future of peace. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that God’s future reign includes not only a remnant from within Israel but also those from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia and as far as the recesses of the North. All who listen to God are welcome.
If the first reading is about a people who refuse to listen to God, the responsorial psalm is about a God who will not refuse to listen to his people, especially the poor. God hears and saves those in distress. He not only rescues them but confronts their oppressors. Those who gaze upon the Lord will become radiant with joy. To God belong blessing, praise, and glory for the Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Has the human predicament really changed that much? It seems to me that the history of the human race is one of not listening to God, seeking for answers to the problems that inevitably come, with a few responding to God’s loving call to listen to him, do his will, and experience the joy and peace he created for us in the beginning. Jesus then makes it clear that it is not always the religious folks who respond to God’s call. He likens us religious folks to a son who says one thing to his Father but then does something else while those who say openly that they reject the Father’s teachings actually come around and do what the Father wants. I had friends in college who were referred to as “Bible thumpers.” They were the ones who carried around a Bible and were not slow to tell everyone what they should do to please God. There is certainly nothing wrong with carrying a Bible or even announcing the word of God but some of these folks created an atmosphere of resistance because they talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk. On the other hand, I once visited a friend in his dorm room only to see his roommate reading an issue of Playboy Magazine. Later my friend told me that his roommate always read his Bible inside of an issue of Playboy because he didn’t want anyone to think he was one of those “Bible thumpers.”
My friend’s roommate need not have worried. God knows the children who love him. It’s not the ones who say “Yes, Yes” and never enter the vineyard. It’s those who, despite their protestations, do his will.
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