Scripture: Lectionary 187. Saturday, Dec.14. Sirach 48:1-4,9-11. Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19. Matthew 17:10-13.
Jesus sees John the Baptist as a return of Elijah, the fiery prophet who had unusual power over nature and non believers. Fire is the symbol given to Elijah in our first reading. There is also the message of Elijah which implies a turning to the Lord God. These are some of his gifts as a prophet. John the Baptist, too, is a fiery preacher of a baptism unto the forgiveness of sins .In his fiery preaching he constantly brings that message to those who came to see and hear him. We learn that John the Baptist is his own person and not a come back to life Elijah or what is called a “redivivus.”
There is a difference of approach to the concept of “conversion” in the New Testament and the Old Testament. We have heard many times that a metanoia is called for in the Gospel message of the kingdom—a complete change in our ordinary way of thinking and behaving. The Greek word deals more with the mental or attitudinal dimension of conversion. The Hebrew word is very down to earth and so concrete that it can give us a new look at our own daily task of conversion. It comes from the word meaning to turn (Shuv in Hebrew, Tuv in Aramaic). Jesus would be proclaiming John’s preaching more to this down to earth approach meaning a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn around to face the Lord. John makes every effort to preach to us to turn around and follow the path of the Lord and not our own paths.
In looking at our first reading we have a type of epitaph that captures the life and purpose of Elijah. This helps us to imagine more about John the Baptist when Jesus says John is Elijah! And even the slow to learn disciples catch the comparison that Jesus is making of the two fiery speakers and prophets.
If we take a look at the verb SHUV it is formed into a noun in Hebrew called Teshuvah or repentance. I found this description of its meaning from a delightful book called the Joys of Hebrew written by Lewis Glinert. He cites Martin Buber: “Teshuvah, return, is the name given to the act of decision in its ultimate intensification; it denotes the decisive turning point in one’s life, the renewing, total reversal in the midst of the normal course of our existence.”
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.