John the Baptist is an important figure in the Gospel tradition. In Luke’s version of the story of their conception and birth, we find he is presented in parallel to Jesus, but always at a lower level: for instance, John is conceived, against all the odds, like significant figures in the Hebrew Bible such as Isaac, Jacob and Samuel, in the natural way: Jesus’ conception, however, does not involve a human father.
Prepare the Way:
Saturday, December 15, 2018
1) Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11
2) Matthew 17:9a, 10-13
Gospel related: CCC 718
FOCUS: Let us proclaim the Good News of the Lord.
The context and description of the scene in today’s Gospel is not without purpose. Jesus and some of his disciples – in this case Peter, James and John – are coming down from the mountain. The mountain upon which they had just witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah. A mountain which may or may not have direct historical or geographical reference, according to Biblical scholarship, but certainly has a theological one for Matthew’s Gospel.
For on that mountain – that is, high above the day-to-day and temporal reality of the world – the disciples have had a vision of and a proximity to the kingdom of heaven in its fullness. A kingdom initiated on earth but not yet come to complete fruition. Because of this, the disciples cannot remain there. So they descend with Jesus; they descend back to the plains and the crowds, in order to witness to the Good News. But they have a question as they do so – about Elijah.
Jesus answers them, and we are told that the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist
How did they understand this? In his reply, Jesus both affirms the scribal doctrine, and expands upon it. We know from Sirach’s words today what the disciples already knew about Elijah – he was a man of zeal, a preacher of reform and repentance who prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel about the coming of the Messiah.
But Jesus’ words convey a further truth not as obvious to the disciples: since Elijah’s time, the expectation of and anticipation for the Messiah had been corrupted by error and worldly depravity. Therefore a “new Elijah,” so to speak, was brought forth by God to herald the Christ. A man of zeal, a preacher of reform and repentance, who would baptize with water before Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
As both prophet, and herald-by-sight of the Messiah – Behold the Lamb of God, we know he said – John stands as a metaphor for all of us to come down from the mountain. That is, in baptism and by the grace of the sacraments, we too have had a “mountaintop encounter” with the fullness of the kingdom. The Eucharist is a window into heaven, and a bridge between heaven and earth.
And just as the disciples could not stay on that mountain, and John the Baptist could not help but announce the Messiah when he saw him, we, too, have a role in proclaiming the Good News. Let us pray for the zeal to do so.
Take us Lord and keep us close to you.
For you have no feet but ours
To go the sick and lonely,
No voice but ours
To speak Good News,
No heart but ours
With which to show your love.
Christ Has No Body Now But Yours – David Ogden:
As you walk along the street, look at the road. What condition is it in? How might the state of the road reflect the state of your life in relation to God? Are there potholes? Are major repairs being carried out? Or is the road well maintained and an asset to the local and wider community?
Prepare the Way of the Lord -William Rowan:
Many ancient roads were a marvel of engineering. They were straight and level: the engineers overcame every obstacle in their way, whether they were slopes going up or down, streams, trees and the like. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the swift and smooth progress of troops or trade. They were so well constructed that many still remain, thousands of years later.
This is the vision of Second Isaiah, who was writing 500 years or so earlier than the birth of Christ, when the Roman Empire was at the high point of its power. The prophet calls for the construction of such a road so that all people will see the salvation of God. We might recall that in the story of Jesus’ being presented in the Temple, Simeon had spoken of “a light of revelation for the Gentiles”, and here we are told that “all people will see the salvation of God”. Luke emphasises that God’s message is for all who will accept God’s word declared through the prophet, but this conversion, or ‘turn-around’, is not something purely intellectual or inferior: it must show itself in the way the person lives and treats others. Advent is the time for us to “prepare a way for the Lord” into our hearts, minds and lives.
Godspell – Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord: