REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND
(A biblical refection on the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT [Year A] – 8 December 2019)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:1-12
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalms: Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17; Second Reading: Romans 15:4-9
The Scripture Text
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of Lord, make His paths straight.” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not pressure to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father; for I tell, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:1-12 RSV).
In ancient times when a king decided to travel through the land he ruled, he always sent his servants to prepare the way for him. These servants had two functions. First, they announced that the king was about to pass by so the people could line the streets for a glimpse of their ruler. The servants also prepared the way for the king’s chariot, making sure the road was clear of all obstacles so the chariot would not have to stop unnecessarily.
Some of the Jews believed the Messiah was going to be a king and, like other kings, he was going to send his servant before him to prepare his way. According to a Jewish belief based on Malachi 3:23-24, this servant was supposed to be the prophet Elijah.
In the first chapter of the second book of Kings, Elijah wears a hairy garment with a leather belt around his waist. Today’s Gospel reading begins by describing John the Baptist as also being dressed this way. By drawing attention to the similar clothing worn by these two men and by quoting a verse about Elijah from the book of Isaiah, Matthew suggests that John was fulfilling the role of Elijah. John was announcing the coming of the Messiah and was preparing his way just as Elijah was supposed to.
John’s message was that the Jews should prepare for the Messiah by reforming their lives. The Greek word for reform is metanoia and it refers to a complete change in a person’s life. John was telling those who came out to hear him preach that admitting their sinfulness and saying they’re sorry is not enough. Their metanoia must go beyond words and must extend to how they act.
In today’s Gospel, John singles out the Pharisees and the Sadducees for particularly harsh criticism because they took too much pride in being part of God’s chosen people. Some of them believed that being a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jews, guaranteed them a place of honor in the Kingdom of God. John warned that this was not necessarily true and they could find themselves excluded from the Kingdom unless their actions reflected their beliefs. They, too, needed to reform.
Is your belief in Jesus evident in how you live your life? Identify one area in which you need to reform. Work on that area during the Advent season.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 4-5.)
Prayer: Holy Spirit, come! I give You the freedom to purge the chaff from my life. Fill my heart with wisdom, strength, and all your gifts, so that I might endure separation from sin and be made a fit vessel of the Father’s love. Amen.
Jakarta, 6 December 2019
A Christian Pilgrim