• 3rd Sunday of Advent (B)

    Posted on December 8, 2017 by in Reflections on Sunday Gospels

     In today’s Gospel, Priests and Levites, the representatives of the Jewish authorities and experts come from Jerusalem to the desert.  They come to ask John, “Who are you?”

              Something had obviously attracted their attention. Large numbers of people were going to John.  Movements of rebellion often times formed in the desert.  The authorities were probably afraid of this. Their concern is whether some special status other than birth status is implied in John’s behavior. John’s father Zechariah was a devout rural priest.    Luke begins his Gospel by telling us that Zechariah is serving in the temple in Jerusalem .  There he receives the announcement of the birth of his Son. Zechariah is of a priestly family and so is his wife Elizabeth. This should mean that John would one day appear serving in the Temple too.  But John appears in the desert preaching and baptizing.


    John justifies his actions not in terms of his own birth status, but as a prelude to the coming of one greater than he.  Though John’s actions had suggested to onlookers a status higher than his own birth status, he himself offers a different assessment.  He suggests that his interlocutors have misread the situation rather sharply.  John says he is not even worthy to untie his sandal strap.  Untying sandal straps was an action proper to a slave. John is placing himself below slaves and students of teachers. The implication is that John’s status is low indeed.  The Gospel of John five times explicitly places John below Jesus on the scale of honor.

    John answers their question by first saying who he was not, Not The Christ (Messiah), Not Elijah, not the Prophet.  When pressed to give more information he states, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.


          John the Gospel writer introduces John :  “There was man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.”

    John the Baptist says of Jesus to the people, “…but among you stands one whom you do not know.”  The Gospel writer John also places on John the Baptist lips the words, “.  the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  The mention of the sandals is present in all four Gospel writers.  This and the baptism of water are probably the only elements that all four Gospel writers share in writing about John the Baptist.  Matthew and Luke portray John as a fire and brimstone prophet.  Ax at the root, cut down, thrown in the fire, brood of vipers, winnowing fan in his hand, chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.


    If someone were to ask you, “who are you?”  What response would you give?  We might start our response like John saying who we are not.  How would you formulate the answer to someone asking about your identity? In contemporary American society the question “who are you?” is a question about what uniquely characterizes an individual.  The individualist personality.  But the world of the New Testament, when someone asked, “who are you?” he or she normally expected to hear some kind of group identifier like “son of Joseph from Nazareth” or “descendant of Abraham”.  They saw every person as deeply embedded in a group and therefore assumed that identity is possible only in relation to the others who form this group.  For most people this was the family. They thought in terms of collectivist personality.

            For example are you thought of as a responsible person or as irresponsible?  Are you dependable or can’t be depended on?  Are you neat and organized or haphazard and disorganized.  Are you considered a happy person or a sad person?  As a serious person or fun loving?  Are you a team player or a lone ranger?  Are you an on time person or an always late person?

     It is common to speak of people having an identity crisis.  My experience has been that some people have an inflated idea of their identity and other people have a deflated idea of their identity.


    We would identify ourselves by religion as Catholic.  In what does your Catholic identity consist?  One writer on a sermon on the internet put four qualities out there:

     1) Attend Mass every Sunday

    2) Known to be a moral person, standards of ethics, morality and character.  Persons of principle and goodness in the way we carry out our affairs, our businesses and in the way we treat others.  My word means something.

    3) Prayerful persons.

    4) Have an attitude, a habit of being that is kind, gentle, respectful, sensitive to others, compassionate and caring toward others.

    ADVENT is the time of the coming of God into our humanity, into our personal lives.  It is that mysterious time of the year when we recognize the tension between what already IS and what is YET TO BE, between what we ARE and what we CAN BE; between what has been ACCOMPLISHED and what remains UNFINISHED in our enterprise of living.

    As preparation for the year 2000, Pope John Paul II, six years prior 1996 wrote the Apostolic letter  Tertio Millenio Adveniente. The first words of this letter are: ” As the third millennium of the new era draws near..”  In announcing the JUBILEE the pope turned to the prophet Isaiah and the words we heard today.  He invited us to be in right relationship to God and neighbor through personal conversion, repentance over individual and corporate sinfulness and reconciliation with enemies.  He also stressed the social dimension of this jubilee:  “From this point of view, if we recall that Jesus came to preach the good news to the poor, how can we fail to lay greater emphasis on the church’s preferential option for the poor and the outcast?  Indeed, it has to be said that a commitment to justice and peace in a world like ours, marked by so many conflicts and intolerable social and economic inequalities, is a necessary condition for the preparation and celebration of the Jubilee.  …Christians will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not canceling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations.  The Jubilee can also offer an opportunity for reflecting on other challenges of our time, such as the difficulties of dialogue between different cultures and the problems connected with respect for women’s rights and the promotion of the family and marriage.” # 51 Tertio Millenio Adveniente.

     From the Vatican, on 10 November in the year 1994, the seventeenth of my Pontificate. APOSTOLIC LETTER

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