Daily Scriptures Reflection and Morning Prayer for Thursday, December 12, 2013

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Scripture: Lectionary 185. Scripture: Isaiah 41:13-20. Psalm 145: 1,9.10-11,12-13. Matthew 11:11-15.

In this second week of Advent we have the person of John the Baptist as our guide who prepares the way for the Lord. In thinking about him we realize that he is related to Jesus through his mother Mary who is a cousin of his own mother Elizabeth. We would like to know more about both Jesus and the John in those thirty years between the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth and whether they enjoyed playing together or sharing many things from their parents. Only the apocryphal writings try to fill in such gaps that we find in the canonical Gospels. We know very little about these hidden years of Jesus and John the Baptist.

After the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth we come to know about John and Jesus together at the event of Jesus being baptized by his cousin in the Jordan near Aenon mentioned in John’s Gospel. John however is involved at once with the preparation for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He appears early in the writings of all four Gospels. These narratives are valuable during Advent as we too are interested in how to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. The Baptist leads us through these narrative through his preaching of repentance, his answers given to those who question him, his messianic preaching, and finally his imprisonment and his martyrdom.

We have more from Josephus, a writer of the first century, who describes John and his role in history. This is an authentic historical description whereas the one about Jesus found in Josephus is suspect of tampering by Christians who have altered the text on Jesus. In his “Antiquities of the Jews” Josephus has this about John the Baptist:

Now , some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment for he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing {with water}would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not to the order of putting away, ({or the remission}of some sins {only,}but for the purification of the body:supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when {may}others came to crowd about him, for they were greatly moved {or pleased}by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not to bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and there was put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment on Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him. (Antiquities of the Jews, chapter 5, par.2).

This pales in relationship to what the New Testament says about John the Baptist in the narratives where he appears during Jesus’ active ministry according to all four Evangelists. And we should not be dismayed if we know nothing about the early lives of these great persons in history and in our faith traditions. What we learn from Scripture is the role of John the Baptist in the ongoing history of salvation and his appearance was a watershed in ongoing revelation as we learn from the great sentence of St. Luke: “The law (Torah) and the prophets were in force until John. From his time on, the good news of God’s kingdom has been proclaimed, and people of every sort are forcing their way in.” ( Luke 16:16).

The Baptist’s role of preaching, heralding, witnessing, and proclaiming as forerunner of the messianic age makes him likened to Elijah the prophet. Jesus praises him as the greatest man born of woman. Jesus informs John about what he is doing through John’s own disciples who have come to see who Jesus is and whether he may be the one who is to come.

We follow this great prophet during Advent and are led by his courage, his humility, his burning zeal, and his proclamation to make straight the pathways for the Lord. Amen.

Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.

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