The role of the prophet, the fate of the prophet

Press Release Responding to John the Baptist’s Denunciation of Herod Antipas

A spokesman for Herod, tetrarch of Galillee, has denounced as “further authoritarian righteousness” a condemnation of his marriage by the preacher John. Herod recently married Herodias, the former wife of his brother Philip, tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis.

John, known locally as “the baptist” because of his practice of anointing sinners with water, has been attracting large crowds along the edge of the Judean desert where he is said to live. He has consistently condemned Herod for alleged abuses of power. Continue reading

The Heartbreak of John the Baptist

In today’s gospel we heard the well known account of the beheading of John the Baptist. I have to admit, I wonder if John should have played the long game. He didn’t need to call out King Herod. It is not as though Herod was popular with Jewish people. He was thought to be Jewish in name only as he was of Idumaean ancestry, a conquered people forced to convert to Judaism in order to keep their status and wealth. While Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew, this religious identification was undermined by his decadent lifestyle which earned him the antipathy of observant Jews. Continue reading

What will this child be?

Our readings for today increasingly act as heralds for the coming of the Messiah as well as pointing to the one who would herald the coming of Jesus. The first reading from the prophet Malachi (whose name means “my messenger”) proclaims that God’s promises are true, but are fulfilled in God’s time, not ours. The reading announces: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me” (Mal 3:1)  and he identifies that messenger: “Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet” (Mal 3:23)  This oracle is several hundred years after the time of Elijah. In 2 Kings 2, Elijah is turning over the mantle of the prophetic office to Elisha but in that scene Elijah departs by boarding a fiery chariot and ascends into heaven. But the tradition in Judaism was that Elijah would return and so several traditions and rituals leave a chair empty and ready for Elijah. Continue reading

What did you expect…

In today’s gospel, we are again in the desert with John the Baptist – at least as far as Jesus asking the people (who apparently went out to see John the Baptist in the desert): “What did you go out to the desert to see…”  In other words, what were you expecting? I would suggest Jesus is simply asking them to remember what motivated them to take the trip out into the dessert, to the Jordon River. If you have ever been to the Holy Land you know that Jerusalem to the Jordan River is not a walk in the park. Continue reading

An open seat at our tables

This Saturday morning, our readings highlight the Prophets Elijah and John the Baptist, two of the greatest prophets from the times before Jesus. In the first reading from Sirach, we hear

“In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace. Their staff of bread he shattered, in his zeal he reduced them to straits; By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens and three times brought down fire. How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Whose glory is equal to yours? You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses. You were destined, it is written, in time to come to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD.”

Continue reading

The Theology of History

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Advent in Year C of the lectionary cycle. Yesterday’s post completed the commentary on the coming gospel and noted the coming Messiah “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16). The Sunday gospel emphasizes John the Baptist but also points forward to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is one of many passages that are taken together to consider what has become known as the “Theology of History”. St. Bonaventure wrote about it in the 13th century and it was the topic of Pope Benedict’s doctoral dissertation. Continue reading

Spirit and Fire

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Advent in Year C of the lectionary cycle. In the previous post, in the face of the coming wrath (Luke 3:7), the people have cried out “What should we do?” (v.10) John answers that each person, where they are in life and the work they have, is to be compassionate and perform their job faithfully, especially in the way they treat others. How we treat others is a litmus test for how we are responding to God. As Jesus says later, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Continue reading

What should we do?

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Advent in Year C of the lectionary cycle. The opening verse of the gospel is from the people who have just heard John the Baptist proclaim the coming wrath of God (Luke 3:7) and they shout out, “What should we do?” What is clear from John is that judgment on the basis of one’s fruit/deeds is at hand: “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees” (v.9). Continue reading

Evidence and Heritage

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Advent in Year C of the lectionary cycle. The gospel for the coming Sunday again returns to John the Baptist in Judean wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance. John is filling the role that was the king’s duty: call people back to Covenant with God. He preaches repentance, turning away from sin and turning towards God, and symbolically washes them clean in the waters of the Jordan. Continue reading

Our mission

We are familiar with the story of John the Baptist as the herald of the coming Messiah – it is the story that introduces and highlights the Advent season. But Advent’s proclamation of Christmas is not the end of John’s story. He remained a man faithful to God’s calling.

After Jesus began his public ministry and the spotlight refocused, John continued baptizing and calling people to repentance. He continued calling people to remember they were a covenant people. He challenged kings, even if it meant being imprisoned and being killed.

Continue reading