Theme: Prepare the way for the Lord
Of all people born of a woman, John the Baptist still takes the lead because he pointed out Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. After he had succeeded in turning the eyes of others toward Jesus, John the Baptist vanished from the public eye. He decreased so that Jesus might increase. Using this as a base, we need to ask ourselves. What lesson does he teach us? He mentors us to stay focused so that we can guide others to Jesus.
First reading: Isaiah 49:1-6
Often, exemplary people whose wisdom has proven ageless are recognized and even awarded. The famous footballer Pere of Brazil is one such worthy nominee among those who have made it to the top. In the world of religion, Prophet Isaiah put forth the suffering servant as one who served God’s purposes so valiantly to the point of surrendering his life for the sake of saving others. When consolation was the order of the day, the suffering servant spoke of challenge. When honesty was put under the carpet, this servant made truths his anthem.
Like the suffering servant, John the Baptist was called from birth with his name decided while still in the womb. He would by God’s command be “called John” Luke 1:13. Filled with the Spirit he spoke the truth to the powerful like “a sharp-edged sword” Isaiah 49:2. Because of him “many of the sons of Israel will be brought back to God” Luke 1:16. For a time, he would shine like a light to the nations “preparing a well disposed people for the Lord” Luke 1:17. Like the suffering servant, John the Baptist deflected attention away form himself and pointed out Jesus so that all would look at him for life and forgiveness cf. Isaiah 49:6
Second reading: Acts 13:22-26
A few verses before this recounted speech, Luke told his readers that Paul and Barnabas had made their way from Perga in Pamphylia to Antioch in Pisidia cf. Acts 13:14-15. What Luke does not say is that the journey was about one hundred miles. Moreover, to arrive at Pisidian Antioch, the two apostles had to cross the Taurus Mountains, one of the most dangerous and difficult roads in the whole of Asia minor. Notorious robbers readily ambushed unsuspecting travelers on a bad road that rose to a height of 3600 feet above sea level.
On this Pisidian plateau upon which the city was built, Paul made his way to the synagogue where he was invited to speak. At first, it seemed that he was preaching to the choir, because he launched into a synopsis of Israel’s history, the details of which were certainly well known to his listeners; from then Paul insisted that Jesus, one born of David’s lineage was God’s promised messiah cf. 2 Samuel 7:14. To maintain the accuracy of his account, Paul also mentioned John the Baptist who had come preaching a baptism of repentance in order to prepare his contemporaries to recognize and accept Jesus.
To clarify the secondary and subordinate position of Jesus’ herald in God’s salvific plan, Paul quotes a saying of John in slightly altered form. John’s insistence that he was not the one whom the people supposed him to be made him opt temporally for the Baptizer’s career that ended as soon as Jesus took position. Whatever important a role he had played, John was simply assisting in identifying who Jesus Christ was. From these two heroes of our faith, we learn that our roles too, however significant, are secondary and subordinate to that of Jesus Christ. One day, our course too will inevitably come to an end but the mission of Jesus and his Church will continue. Like John the Baptist we are invited make others see and meet Jesus.
Gospel: Luke 1:57-66, 80
Luke presents the infancy narratives of John and Jesus in a style that affirms their uniqueness. Both were children whose conceptions were announced by an angel; they were born in an unusual manner to women who were not expected to become mothers. Both were given names before their birth by the Angel Gabriel, who also announced that each son would be “great before the Lord” Luke 1:5-25. The duo admirably served the salvific purposes of God, one as herald and preparer the other as savior and fulfiller of every sinner’s hope.
In presenting the account of his conception and birth, Luke makes John stand out as one in whom God’s inscrutable purposes would be accomplished. Like Isaac son of Abraham and Sarah; John would be for Zechariah and Elizabeth the child of the promise cf. Genesis 21:6.
As his birth was revealed to Zechariah by Gabriel, the same Angel revealed the name in advance to Elizabeth making both affirm affirmed that “his name is John” Luke 1:63. This truth made Zechariah regain his power of speech prompting him to praise God as his relatives and neighbors watched with awe. From this moment on, John would prove himself to be Jesus’ forerunner from conception, ministry until his death. Interestingly John and Jesus shared some similarity in death as John would die for his faith and convictions, while Jesus would die to save humanity on the cross. John should be understood as a type of the Church whose role is to continue preparing the way of the Lord. John is also the type of every believer; like him, each one of us is called to live in such a manner that others are led to see Jesus.
The fierce John the Baptist was not just the predecessor but also a guide of Jesus. Unlike other popular preachers, John did not care at all whether anyone liked him or not. It actually looked as though he was trying to drive people away instead of attracting them. This was because he was not trying to win adherents to help him change the world. He was warning them that the world as they knew it was over. It seems amazing that a message as frightening as that of John the Baptist would attract anyone but it did pull so many that the mighty Roman Empire watched him very carefully. All the investigative resources similar to the FBI, just to say, aimed at him for any possible violation of their patriot cause. Surprisingly enough, many saw in John the thing they themselves wanted to see and were compelled to change.
Some people followed John because they, like him, wanted God to take a more active part in governing the world. Others hung on to his every word waiting for the signal to rise up against Rome and make their beloved country free and independent of foreign domination. As they hoped that God would help; they were still ready to go without God. Others were simply camp-followers along the ride of excitement not knowing or caring what this would cause. But for John, Jesus was the answer to their fasting and prayer. John was an antenna gathering in the disconnected thoughts of Jesus. John was a prophet with the brass neck ready to speak God’s will out loud and clear about repentance. John demanded this repentance through baptism with water while Jesus would complete it by fire and the Holy Spirit. With John today we are invited to respect and treasure our baptism since it has made us children of God.
In this era and time we are invited to regain the personality of the suffering servant so that when honesty is being force under the carpet, we dare remain the voice of truth. Although it is two thousand years since God in Jesus lived with us, we still need the courage and determination of St. Paul and John the Baptist to assist humanity in identifying who Jesus Christ is. From these two heroes of our faith, we are taught never to assume the place of Jesus but to announce and witness his message of salvation. John the Baptist clearly identified that sin was eating and found a remedy in pointing out the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, let us have the will and zeal to continue doing the same and like him let us be courageous enough despise compromise on this life value.
Fr Paulino Mondo