Jesus, rigorist Messiah or One who eats with sinners
The main person, offered for our consideration, this second Sunday of Advent is John the Baptist.He is featured next Sunday too.
The prophet Baruch and the prophet John the Baptist speak of preparations being made.Baruch makes a person out of Jerusalem and gives her preparation guidelines.John speaks about preparing the way of the Lord.
In the Second reading Paul reminds the Philippians that God has begun a good work in them and will bring it to completion.
This year’s Gospel readings are from Luke’s Gospel.Luke places God’s salvation coming directly into political history and into the lives of individual people.Only Luke tells us, “…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” But first Luke places John in his chronological time, in political time, in religious time and in geographical space.
Luke gives more personality to John than do the other Gospel writers.He goes into great detail to give the setting into which John comes.He also gives John’s preaching more content than the other Gospel writers.We hear some of it this Sunday and more of it next.
The parallels between John and Jesus are many.Birth announcements, and birth narratives, both thought to be prophets, both known as holy men, some of their preaching the same (Matthew puts the same words on the lips of John and Jesus:“Reform your lives! The Reign of God is at hand.” (Mt. 3:2 John, Mt. 4:17 Jesus)Both were arrested on flimsy grounds, both betrayed, both executed by public officials, both had disciples who after their deaths retrieved their bodies and “laid it in a tomb.”Both had disciples.
It seems clear that some people thought that John the Baptist was the Messiah.But though we don’tread the fire and brimstone preaching of John during the Sunday preparation Masses for Christmas, John is a fire and brimstone preacher:Lk 3:7-9 “He would say to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him: you brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come?Give some evidence that you mean to reform.Do not begin by saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree.Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
And at the end of the passage which we will read next Sunday: “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
We are also reminded of the visual picture painted by Mark and Matthew:“John was clothed in camel’s hair, and wore a leather belt around his waist.His food was grasshoppers and wild honey.” (Mk. 1:6)He is a desert wild man.His preaching is fire and brimstone.
Even in chapter 7 of Luke’s Gospel his disciples are sent to Jesus to ask:“Are you He who is to come or do we look for someone else?”
I believe that John had read the prophecies (particularly of Isaiah) very selectively.John emphasized a rigorist and hard Messiah.Jesus came and ate with sinners.He was in the company of prostitutes.He spent time with women.These actions would have been difficult for John to reconcile with his idea of Messiah.
People came to Jesus and said, “John’s disciples fast frequently and offer prayers; the disciples of the Pharisees do the same.Yours, on the contrary, eat and drink freely.”
The people of Jesus’ time, who followed even so great a person as John the Baptist had to adjust their ideas of the Messiah-God.
Our ideas of the kind of God we are preparing for this Advent are very important.Sometimes we make God in our image and likeness.This Advent calls us to examine our ideas of God. I recently read this quote: “Don’t be preoccupied with putting Christ in Christmas, be preoccupied with putting Christ into Christianity.” Aberrant practices of Christianity abound in our time. Some preach the Messiah as understood by John the Baptist. Some see President Trump as the ‘Chosen one’, some preach the prosperity Gospel. We need to engage the Scriptures which tell us the concerns, values and deeds of Jesus. This Advent calls us to prepare the way of the Lord. We do this by imitating the way of Jesus “who came to serve, not to be served.” What in my life needs to be straightened or leveled or changed?Our efforts to prepare for the coming of Jesus will allow Jesus to work in our lives the wonders that only the new life in Jesus with his power and grace can bring.
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