Gospel message is the need for conversion
Sunday, December 16, 2018
John the Baptist’s preaching
in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom
a) Opening prayer
Come, Spirit Creator, enlighten our minds and fill the hearts You have created with Your grace. Be light to our intellect, ardent flame in our hearts; heal our wounds with the balsam of Your love. Light of eternal wisdom, reveal to us the mystery of God the Father and of the Son united in one single love. Amen.
b) Gospel reading
The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
c) Prayerful silent time
that the Word of God may enter into our hearts and enlighten our life.
a) A key to the reading
An integral part of Luke’s Gospel message is the need for conversion: metanoia, that is, a change of mind to a way of thinking and acting that is divine. Very often we meet in Luke’s Gospel scenes where the mercy of God manifests itself in Jesus Christ towards the poor and humble of heart (Lk 1:46-55; 2:1-20; 5:12-31; 6:17-38). These scenes stand in contrast to the severe treatment reserved for the rich and proud whose heart is hard and closed to God and the needy neighbor (Lk 16:19-31; 17:1-3).
The text of this Sunday’s liturgy presents us with this theme. The passage, 3:10-18, is part of Luke’s presentation of John the Baptist’s preaching in preparation for the mystery of Jesus. John the Baptist proclaims the imminent coming of the day of the Lord: “Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?” (Lk 3:7).
The prophets had proclaimed the coming of this day of wrath and salvation, as also the coming of a messenger known as Elijah (Sir 48:11), who would prepare the way before the Lord (Mal 3:1-5). In Christian tradition, John the Baptist is the messenger who prepares for the day of the coming of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah: “someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am” (Lk 3:16). In fact, John’s ministry takes place at a time of great messianic expectations: “A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people” (Lk 3:15) and asks of the Baptist whether he is the Messiah. Later, this question is put to Jesus too (Lk 9:7-9, 18-21) who then reveals His identity in the implicit confirmation of the profession of faith made by Peter.
In verses 3:1-18 of Luke’s Gospel, we have everything concerning the ministry and mission of John the Baptist. He was sent to baptize as a sign of repentance and to preach the conversion that brings salvation: “produce the appropriate fruits” (Lk 3:7); “I baptize you with water” (Lk 3:16). Through his preaching, John “announced the good news” (Lk 3:18) that salvation was not only reserved for some of the elect but is offered to all, including publicans and soldiers (Lk 3:10-14), to all those who live and act justly and with charity.
Jesus, in His turn, will further clarify this truth by His merciful attitude towards publicans, sinners and those marginalized (Lk 7:1-10, 36-50; 17:11-19; 18:9-14). In fact, the theme of salvation became tied to the coming of the Kingdom of God, which is in our midst (Lk 17:20-21) and implies social justice and equality among all people (Lk 3:10-14). Hence salvation is not just an abstract and personal quality but is real and collective. This salvation is offered to us by God in those who are baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire (Lk 3:16b). “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 in a fire that will never go out” (Lk 3:17).
Following the Gospel story, we see that several times Jesus will make similar references concerning the coming of the Kingdom through warnings and parables (Lk 13:1-5; 17:22-37). We can say that in looking at the ministry and mission of Jesus, Luke lets us see the perfecting of the proclamation and preaching of John. Here we may remember what Jesus said in the synagogue in Nazareth, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen” (Lk 4:21).
b) A few questions to direct our meditation and practice.
a) The need for conversion: metanoia, that is, changing one’s imperfect way of thinking to the divine way of thinking and acting. Do I feel this need?
b) God’s mercy towards the poor and humble of heart manifests itself in Jesus Christ. Do I identify myself with these?
c) “A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people” (Lk 3:15). The early Christians anxiously awaited the second coming of the Lord: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’ Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come’ “ (Rev 22:17). Do I await the coming of the Lord, or am I so busy with material life that I am inordinately attached to all things passing?
d) In Christian tradition, John the Baptist is the messenger who prepares the people for the first coming of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. The Church has received the same mission of preparing the way of the Lord who will come: “I shall indeed be with you soon!” (Rev 22:20). What can I do to prepare for the second coming of the Lord?
e) Salvation is not reserved for a few elect but is offered to all, including those considered “unworthy” of the salvation of God. In Jesus’ time, those included among the “unworthy” were the publicans and pagans. Who are those frequently considered “unworthy” of salvation in our day?
f) The theme of salvation is closely related to the coming of the Kingdom of God and has social justice implications: “Now I am making the whole of creation new” (Rev 21: 5). What can I do to promote justice in a way that will affect the structures of social injustice?
a) Psalm 97 (96, 1-7, 10-12)
The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are round about Him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him,
and burns up His adversaries round about.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim His righteousness;
and all the peoples behold His glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before Him.
The Lord loves those who hate evil;
He preserves the lives of His saints;
He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light dawns for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to His holy name!
b) Closing prayer
Word, splendor of the Father, in the fullness of time You came down from heaven to redeem the world. Your Gospel of peace frees us from every fault, pours out light into our minds and hope into our hearts. When, among the splendors of heaven, You will return as judge, welcome us to Your right hand in the assembly of the blessed. Praise be to Christ our Lord, to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.
Contemplation is knowing how to adhere with one’s mind and heart to the Lord who by His Word transforms us into new beings who always do His will. “Knowing these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:17)