Week 2 of Advent
Dec. 16, 2017
Matt 17: 9-13
Washington Salesian Cooperators
“I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased” (Matt 17: 12).
The reading from the book of Sirach (48:1-4,9-11) praises the historical prophet Elijah, who recalled the powerful and the ordinary people of Israel to worship of the true God with powerful preaching, with the infliction of drought and its relief thru rain, with “wondrous deeds,” and at the end of his earthly days was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. You can read his fascinating story in 1 Kings starting at ch. 17.
There was a belief that Elijah would return “before the day of the Lord,” i.e., before the Last Day, to lead Israel, again, back to fidelity to the Lord before the judgment. This was based on a prophecy in Malachi (3:23-24).
Our gospel reading is the passage immediately after Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8), during which Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. Thus, “as they were coming down from the mountain” (17:9), it was natural for Elijah to be on the minds of Peter, James, and John, who ask Jesus about the prophet’s return (17:10).
Jesus first says that “Elijah will come and restore all things” (17:11), i.e., get everything back into good order, viz., people’s relationship with God. But then Jesus seems to correct himself: “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased” (17:12). “They” could be the scribes, the people in general, and certainly Herod the tetrarch and his wife Herodias, who had John the Baptist executed. For, Matthew says, “the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (17:13).
|John in prison (ShababChristian.com)|
But Jesus himself was no more recognized and accepted than John the Baptist was: “So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands” (17:12). So does the world at large continue not to recognize the lordship of Jesus, the rule of Jesus, for all the hoopla of “the holiday season”—we’re less and less ready even to name the holiday (as a recent poll demonstrated). The so-called intelligentsia are even trending toward turning B.C. into BCE [before the Common Era] and A.D. into C.E., lest they imply that Jesus is the turning point of history.
But Jesus remains the decision point for everyone—first of all for you and me. I’ll close with a passage from this commentary on today’s gospel passage:
The people did not recognize John the Baptist as the new Elijah and, consequently, would not acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah. Reading this passage today, we might marvel at the shortsightedness of Jesus’ contemporaries. But the word of God confronts us with the same question that perplexed the people of Jesus’ time: “Who do you say Jesus is?” (see Matthew 16:13). If he is merely a model to emulate, then he will not be vital to our lives. But if we say that he is truly the Messiah, whose death and resurrection has saved us, then the only possible response is to commit our lives to him.
 Leo Zanchettin, ed., Matthew: A Devotional Commentary (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist, 1997), p. 181.