YOU CANNOT TELL THE STORY OF JESUS WITHOUT FIRST SPEAKING ABOUT JOHN THE BAPTIST
(A biblical reflection on THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT [YEAR B], 6 December 2020)
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8
First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Psalms: Psalm 85:9-14; Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14
The Scripture Text
The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, who prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”(Mark 1:1-8 RSV)
John the Baptist is a waiting figure, God’s watchman, but his waiting is anything but passive. He does not go into the wilderness to sit in solitude and wait for the one who is to come; rather, the word of God invades his whole being, calling the people of Israel to a radical change of heart in readiness for the approach of the Lord. From the wilderness his voice has a powerful reach: it attracts a people who have grown accustomed to the silence of God, a people who are hungry to be nourished again by the word which they recognize to be God’s own word.
It is worth noting that since the death of the last of the writing prophets, the voice of God had not been heard in the land. It was believed that the spirit of prophecy had been quenched and that God spoke only through “the echo of His voice”. That long silence is broken when John the Baptist speaks, and this is what gives John his unique authority. Through him the silence of God is ended: the spirit of prophecy is alive again as it was in the days of old. That is why, as Mark says, all Judaea and all Jerusalem make their way to John: in him the people discern the living word of God.
People respond to the revivalist preaching of John by confessing their sins to him and undergoing a baptism of repentance. To the word of God spoken through John, people give their own word to change their lives. Their change of heart is shown in their public baptism, which would have taken place at one of the fords in the river Jordan. John’s baptism marks a new beginning for them a time of personal spiritual renewal, when they would aim themselves again at a life of fidelity to God.
The purpose of this energetic renewal movement is to prepare for the one who is to come. And we know that “one” to be Jesus of Nazareth. Although John the Baptist has his own group of disciples, he does not claim that he is way, the truth and the life. “Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful that I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals.” John understands his own powerful place within the larger content of God’s plan and this frees him to defer to the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ greatness does not diminish John’s importance; John is important precisely because of who Jesus is.
John’s way is a challenge to all of us: to foster the greatness in others without feeling threatened about the value of our own contribution; to be free to celebrate the importance of other because we have a sense of own worth and value before God. John manages to do all this, and, not surprisingly, Jesus will return the compliment when He speaks about John to the crowds, telling them that there is no greater mother’s son that John the Baptist (see Matthew 11:11).
As the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus teaches us, the generosity in recognizing the goodness in others can help them call out the good that is in ourselves. When that happens, there are no losers.
Short Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You for sending John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Messiah, Your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who came to the world for our eternal salvation. Amen.
Jakarta, 5 December 2020
A Christian Pilgrim