Isaiah11:1-10/ 71(72):1-2,7-8,12-13,17/Romans15:4-9/ Matthew 3:1-12
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Fr. Thomas Oyode
“John the Baptist and the Signs of the Kingdom”
Last Sunday our reflection was based on the dawning of the Messiah who comes with the Light of peace to search every man’s heart and to reward all. Today, we see yet a proclamation of the dawn of this reign from another personality, John the Baptist. Through him, the message resounds: the reign of God is here, advent is here among us, just in case we are still oblivious of the Lord’s advent. Matthew presents this to us in today’s gospel. As in Mark, the order of Jesus’ ministry begins with the preaching of John unlike Luke who begins with the infancy narrative. Both Matthew and Luke, however, commonly take an approach known as Christology from below.
What is this proclamation by John the Baptist? It is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Now, Matthew, a typical faithful Jew, was avoiding to mention the divine name, God. So he substitutes it with heaven. Thus the kingdom of God is the effective reign of God; the triumph of God and his dominion over every power and rule that rises in oppostion to him. This is in forms of physical and moral evils including death (sin). Precisely for this reason, John calls for repentance. That the reign may be totally effective, we must acknowledge and admit that our sins and our sinfulness is a hindrance to the reign of God in our own lives and in the world. It is also in this sense that we understand the kingdom as being in our midst; it judges us in conscience, in our every day experiences of limitations and unhappiness outside this same kingdom. However, the kingodm is also yet to come in the sense that it has not been fully realised; the fullness of its total realisation will be when God would subect all things under his rule.
As of now, God reigns supreme yet he is invisible to those blinded by sin and lack of faith. He is living among us yet he can not be seen by those whose hearts have become ossified by a lack of charity towards the poor and the weak. Only at the fullness of time will everything be revealed and God would be all in all. As of now we behold this kingdom and leave in this kingdom through signs. Now John the Baptist does not only give us the message of his word but he also gives us the signs of his own life as witness to the Kingdom of God:
A. The kingdom of is asceticism, retreat and repentance. Practically, during this period many of Christ’s faithful would be having retreats and prayers with more opportunities for confessions as moments of going within, living within and listening to the voice of Christ, the Lord himself who comes to us in the depths of our hearts. John showed in his own life that the Kingdom is not food and drink but righteousness and peace in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14: 17). The sacraments (especially of Confession and the Holy Eucharist) should assume greater importance for us during this season as here Christ’s kingdom is manifested to those who trust and believe. There is also the sign of baptism in the Jordan, the sign of ritual purification/cleansing which was a common practice in the Palestinian world from around the middle of the 2nd Century BCE until up to the 3rd Century after Christ. We can not enter the kingdom without purity.
B. Presumption: the sign and message of John the Baptist is that we guide against incredulity, against trivialising the message of God’s word and the call to repentance. The Pharisees and the Sadducees became too comfortable because of their Jewish heritage and presumed to be saved upon this very heritage. The Church teaches that presumption can be in the form of hoping to be saved upon ones own capacities without the help of grace and mercy or hoping to be saved by grace and mercy without conversion (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 290-291). Let us not be too comfortable in our state of sin.
C. The Kingdom is for all Peoples. In the first reading, Isaiah having described the qualities of the one who comes at advent, goes on to describe the effects of his arrival. Primarily, there shall be no ruin or harm and the gentiles (those on society’s fringes) shall seek him ( Is. 11:9-10). Also, St. Paul tells us in the second reading about the harmony and mutual respect that glorifies God and which shall include the Gentiles when it dawns (Rm. 15:5, 8-9). Thus, the kingdom of heaven is understood not as being reserved for the powerful and highly placed but for all the baptised of the Church of Christ, clerics and lay faithful, men and women. Our only right of claim to the Kingdom is baptism and repentance.
Therefore, Advent is here affording us yet another opportunity to look into our lives. Let us not be like the Pharisees (brood of vipers), let us ackowledge our need of need of God and the mercy he brings to us, let us purify our lives and receive the message and signs of John the Baptist and let us take this message and sign to others with hearts full of charity so that we may bring the Kingdom to all peoples of every race, tribe and nation.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh, intercede for us. Amen.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
In the first reading Isaiah says: “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Man judges by ears and eyes. In fact to make a good judgment you must have seen and heard correctly otherwise the individual will pass a bad judgment. The prophecy today says he is not going to judge by what his eyes see and or decide by what ears hear. This means that Jesus will judge consciences. Eyes and ears may be deceptive and fail. And that is why earthly judge can fail us. Beloved in Christ, Jesus is going to judge consciences. In John 8:9 we are told that those who brought the woman caught in adultery, were convicted in their consciences and ran away beginning from the eldest. We may put up holy actions and words but Christ looks at the conscience and as in Rom.9:1 our conscience shall bear us witness. Therefore, as in Acts24:16 strive to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and men.
The gospels says he will gather his wheat into granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. The messiah knows those that are wheat and those that are mere chaff. We can only deceive ourselves but we can never deceive God. He knows those who are true worshipers as different from those who worship with mere lips. Beloved in Christ, how long are we going to be living fake life as Christians. Isaiah in the first reading and John in the gospel are simply saying that God can judge consciences and reward or condemn persons forever. What then shall we do? Preparation! Advent offers us the opportunity not only to celebrate the first coming of Christ but also to prepare for his second coming.
Therefore, preparation forms central theme in our gospel reading of today. John says prepare a way for the Lord, make his path straight. This is a time when preparation is everywhere in the air: preparations for holidays, end of year parties, Christmas clothes, buying presents, sending cards, arranging food, everyone is ‘ getting ready’. Everyone is looking forward and getting ready for Christmas. On the other hand, ‘Looking forward’ and ‘getting ready’ are basic Christian activities: Every Christian is expected to look forward and get ready for what lies ahead. Beyond looking forward and getting ready for Christmas we are called to look forward and get ready for the second coming of Christ who is going to judge the world by fire.
The proclamation of John leaves us with another basic lesson, John did not only say repent the kingdom of God is at hand, he also fasted and did penance, wore camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. So there was a strong witness dimension in his efforts to bring people to Christ. This witness and courage provided him with great credibility and as such many people considered his message. Today, not only that preachers will hardly preach the gospel of repentance, they equally lack credibility. Therefore, if we must win men for God, the dimension of witness must include preaching repentance and living life of penance and renunciation.
The gospel says ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness’ John the Baptist was the voice of God to people. We too, must be God’s voice to people. In the world there are many voices, but only one voice is reliable, and that is the voice of God. We must voice out the truth, we must voice out for the voiceless and make Christ known. Jesus Christ came to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Spirit means breathe; fire gives warmth. We must give others breathe and warmth of our love. Again, may the fire of the Holy spirit help us to overcome complacency (we have Abraham for our Father) as we heard in the gospel.
John’s preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of the Advent season. As John’s message prepared the way for Jesus in the first century, we, too, are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming. They responded to John’s message by our repentance and reform of our lives. We too should repent and reform our lives. We are also called to be prophets of Christ, who announce by our lives. May God bless his words in our hearts. Amen.
Fr. Evaristus Okeke
What True Repentance entails
Sometimes words can be ambiguous and mean different things to different persons. In such situation, the purpose for which such words were intended by the speaker will poorly be realized because the words were differently understood. But when words are clarified, mission will be clear and easy to embark upon. Consequently, today’s liturgy seeks to clarify what it means to repent.
The advent season calls us to prepare for the coming of the messiah. In the gospel reading of today, John the Baptist called on the people to change their ways for the kingdom of God is coming; meaning that it is by repenting of our sins that we prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom. But then, what does it mean to repent? Does it simply mean to be baptized? Is it all about confessing one’s sins? Is repentance simply a ritual act that is carried out once and for all? The answers we give to these questions reflect our attitude towards Christianity.
The gospel reading of today records that people heard John’s message, and they came forward to be baptized and thereafter confessed their sins. John seemed to have obliged them. However, when the Pharisees came too for baptism, John is seen reprimanding them. Repentance is not a ritual act; it is a decision to change ones way of life. Baptism forgives sins, no doubt; confession of sins (Sacrament of Reconciliation) forgives sins too; however, without a firm resolution to stop sinning, our reception of these sacraments will be like offloading a truck of debris so as to get space to load in more debris. The intention to reload more debris makes caricature of the whole initial process of offloading.
It is for this reason that John the Baptist said to the Pharisees: “Let your behaviour show that you have been converted”. If they continue to think that since Abraham is their father then heaven is sure, they will be making caricature of their baptism. Beloved, repentance involves embracing a new way of life. You cannot repent and not change!
Therefore, when advent calls to repentance, it is not asking us to fast from our sinful habits. Whatever you fast from, you will later resume its consumption. Advent calls us to concretely decide to stop sinning. This decision means that we will resolve to avoid the particular occasions that push us to commit specifics sins. So, if I must stop lying, then I must always do the right thing so that I will not result to lies to cover my misdeeds. If I must stop stealing, I must learn to be contented with what I have and cut my coat according to my cloth.
Does this then suggest that one must be sure that he/she will no longer commit a particular sin before going for confession (so as not to make caricature of the sacrament of reconciliation)? The answer is No! If we wait to be sure that we will never commit sin before we repent, my dear, we will never repent because we may never be sure.
The decision to change ones way of life does not rest on the trust of one’s ability but on a greater trust on the grace of God to overcome sin. Only by the power of God can we overcome sinful habits. The resolution that repentance requires is a concrete and sincere effort to avoid sin. With such resolution, even when one falls again, he/she is quick to realize it and quick too to get up and struggle on. Thus, repentance becomes a life-project that must never be abandoned.
The first and the second reading talk about living in harmony. This harmonious living is a natural consequence of genuine repentance. A disposition to always do the right thing will keep one from easily offending others. Holiness is never without love. Beloved, advent calls us to humbly renounce those sins we have liesensed in our lives. It is an abuse to see confession simply as a ticket for the reception of Holy Communion only to thereafter return to one’s sinful routine of life. See, there is no eye service in repentance! God Bless You!