for Sunday, December 9, 2007
"Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever."
John the Baptist needed no introduction to the Jewish Christian communities that were Matthew's original audience. In fact, there is evidence that his influence extended far beyond the Jordan locality and the times of his life and preaching: his disciples turned up many years later in Ephesus as witnessed by Acts 19:1-5. The Gospels intentionally portray John in a way that resembles Elijah (see 2 Kgs 1:8) to show that he continues, in fact completes, the prophetic tradition.
John speaks of reform in terms of road building, a scene we can identify with today. Both the need for good roads in order to give access to all places remote as well as near, and the planning and labor that go into their building and repair, can tell us of the necessity of reform as preparation to allow the Lord to enter our lives. And the kind of work required gives us a strong image; clearing the debris of worldly attachments that hinder access, as well as widening the path of welcome to the Lord. Put yourself in the place of the people who approached John the Baptist. Why did you come? How hard is it to confess your sins? What does bathing in the Jordan River mean to you? Who are the Pharisees and Sadducees, and why would John speak so harshly to them? Do we deserve those words too? Repentance, or turning one's life around comes from the individual person's intention, but only God can complete it by offering entry into a family relationship with him. The Holy Spirit and fire, along with harvest winnowing as an image of judgment, speak of God's power to accomplish what John's preaching and baptism can only allude to.
The work of the Holy Spirit goes beyond individual desires for personal salvation. Reconciliation even of deeply divided antagonists is the fruit of the Spirit in the fullness of God's kingdom. This reading compels the Christian to share in the spirit of reconciliation, and to rise above a self-centered concern and their own righteousness. God's kingdom is not brought about until all people are at peace with one another.
Readings of the day:
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: