By Father John P. Cush
In the Gospel we proclaim this day with which the Lord has blessed us, we see the true beauty of the work of the Evangelist whose telling of the Good News we have this liturgical year — St. Luke. Look at all the details he gives us in the Gospel today, all meant to situate the reader in the time period.
Saint Luke the Evangelist writes:
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tibe’rius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae’a and Trachoni’tis, and Lysa’nias tetrarch of Abile’ne, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca’iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari;ah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
The Evangelist gives us all those details not only because Luke loves the stories (our Catholic tradition holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary was the main source of his information and some in the Byzantine tradition believe Saint Luke was the first iconographer, writing [which is what the Eastern Church calls painting] the first picture of Our Lady], but also because of his audience. Written around the year 85 AD (roughly 15 years after Mark’s Gospel) during the reign of Emperor Domitian, Luke is writing for “Theophilus,” the friend of God, those who want to know more about Christ Jesus, who are primarily during Luke’s time a Gentile audience.
As I mentioned, the Evangelist Saint Luke loves history. That’s why he mentions each of these people, like Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, etc., because each of them is a historical character. No one with a sense of Roman (or even world history) could ever claim that these leaders did not exist. This is important because it helps situation the Lord Jesus into history as well. Say what one will — no one can deny that a historical figure by the name of Jesus of Nazareth existed. Whether or not one wishes to place faith in him as the Incarnation of God, that is a matter of faith. But no one in his or her right mind can ever doubt that Jesus was an actual historical figure.
History matters. (And I say that not only because I teach Church history.) There are two ways to look at history — one way is to see it as a series of unconnected events, random occurrences that really don’t have any meaning. The other way, the proper way, in my opinion, is to view history through the lens of Kairos. Yes, everything matters — the fact that you and I are here in this place, right here, right now, worshipping our God in spirit and truth, together, is part of chronology.
The fact we are now living through this odd time in the history of the world, filled with pandemics and other events matters. Why? Because together we are living in the moment of Kairos, our own personal salvation histories, all tied into the larger scheme of Salvation History in which the Lord of Time allows us to occupy. Perhaps in our prayer today, we might wish to acknowledge our history, both our personal ones, the history of the Church, and that of the world. Do we live like the philosopher Leibniz states “in the best of all possible worlds?” Who knows? Regardless, this is the world we have been given. Thank God for our histories which are tied intrinsically to salvation history.
Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
Philippians: 1:4-6, 8-11
Father Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn who serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, and as a professor of Theology and Church History at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, also in Rome.