Responsorial Psalm – Is. 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Second Reading – Phil. 4:4-7
Gospel Reading – Lk. 3:10-18
In the Gospel reading from last Sunday we learned that John the Baptist is the one prophesied by Isaiah, the “one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord…” (Luke 3:4). This means that the arrival of the Lord is imminent.
The scene is set for us on the banks of the Jordan River. We know that multitudes came to receive this baptism of repentance. However, John checks their hearts. He asks, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance…” (Luke 3:7-8). John realizes that one can utter words of repentance, but right behavior must follow that declaration, thus bearing good fruit. “…[E]veryone should make ready, doing penance for their sins and mending their ways, to be able to receive the grace that the Messiah brings” (The Navarre Bible New Testament, p. 256).
This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke picks up where this leaves off. The multitudes ask, “What should we do?” (Luke 3:10). John the Baptist then explains a few ways to bear fruit that befits repentance. He addresses the multitudes by telling them, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Luke 3:11). He addresses tax collectors by telling them to “stop collecting more than is prescribed” (Luke 3:13). He addresses soldiers by telling them to “not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with you wages” (Luke 3:14). Here, in a sense, he is addressing all persons and professions. In order to bear fruit that befits repentance he teaches them social justice, honesty, and integrity, among other things.
Partly because of the fevered pitch of messianic expectation in the first century, and partly because of the words and deeds of John, the people question whether John himself is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one that is to come.
This expectation that they express is a hope and joy-filled one for those whose hearts are right before the Lord. Here we might make a connection with this Sunday’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Zephaniah.
Zephaniah speaks of both judgment and consolation to the southern Kingdom of Judah between 632 and 628 B.C. The judgment began in 602 B.C. when the Babylonians began to take the southern Kingdom into exile, continue in 587 B.C. when Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed, and only ended 70 years later.
However, Zephaniah also speaks of the restoration of Israel. He tells them to “sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart…The Lord has removed the judgment against you…” (3:14-15).
John the Baptist too speaks both words of judgment and consolation. In preparing the way for the Lord, he tells them to repent. For those who do not repent there are words of judgment. He says of the forthcoming Messiah, Jesus, “The chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:18).
For those who repent there are words of consolation, the Messiah will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). Upon the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the words of Zephaniah will be fulfilled: “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear…The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior…” (3:15c).
John the Baptist, though, makes clear that he is not the Messiah. He is not “worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Luke 3:16). The task of loosening the thongs of sandals was the job of a slave, and John says he is not even worthy to perform the duty of a slave upon the Messiah. St. Augustine speaks about this passage: “Learn directly from John a lesson of humility. People take him for the Messiah, and he tells them he is not; it does not occur to him to use another’s mistake to his own advantage. He knows very well where their salvation lies; he knows that he is simply a lamp, and he wants to ensure that the wind of pride does not put it out.”
After this John exhorts “them in many other ways, he preached the good news to the people” (Luke 3:18). The people will soon meet the Messiah when Jesus comes to the banks of the Jordan River to “fulfill all righteousness,” and be baptized by John (Mathew 3:15).
May we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah at Christmas by repenting, bearing fruit that befits repentance, and having a joy and hope filled expectation of the Lord coming in our midst.
Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).
Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.
Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.