CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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True joy is a gift to be received

Let’s imagine that one of us, eager to prepare well for Christmas, asks the same question to those we consider experts in the field of religion (catechists, pastoral workers, sisters, priests). What would they tell us?

Someone would suggest helping a brother who is in difficulty or visiting a sick person. However, we will also have other answers: Recite the rosary every day; Pray three Salve Regina before going to sleep; Go to confession… These are good pieces of advice—mind you—but the Baptist did not choose this path. He does not suggest anything specifically religious, nor recommend a devotional practice, ceremony or penance. 

He demands something concrete: a major overhaul of one’s life from the ethical principle of loving a brother or a sister.

 He says, “If you have two coats, give one to the person who has none; and if you have food, do the same” (vv.10-11). He focusses on the new relationship that must be established with the neighbour. Love, solidarity, sharing, removal of inequities and abuse of power are the key words of his speech.

Prayer and devotions are fine, as long as they do not become an alibi, provided they are not used as devices to escape the demand for sharing of goods with those in need.

Jesus will demand even more from his disciples: “From the one who takes your coat, do not keep back your shirt” (Luke 6:29).

 Even tax collectors presented themselves to John. They enriched themselves by extorting money from the weak and defenseless. We act as tax collectors when, for example, we reach a prestigious position or demand really high pay for our performance.

The soldiers are the last to ask the Baptist for advice.  The soldiers are the symbol of those who may abuse their power, who profit from their position. The professional one exercises to dominate or overwhelm the weakest behaves like a soldier. 

He is invited to review his behaviour if he wants to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

In the second part of the gospel (vv.15-18), the Baptist resumes his seemingly hard language. However, the evangelist ends the harsh speech of John with a surprising sentence: “With these and many other words of consolation John announced the Good News to the people” (v.18). 

John’s manner of expression perhaps does not conform to our current sensitivity. It is neither sweet nor tender, but what he wants to communicate is joy and hope. 

The baptism of John was a cleansing one. Jesus’ baptism is not water that cleans the outside. It is water that penetrates, transforms and revitalises. And “the water will become in them a spring of water, welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). 

It is his Spirit, the power of God that transforms the old man into a new creature. 

The image of the fire also becomes clear now. Jesus himself will speak about it later: “I have come to bring fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49).

It is not the fire prepared to punish unrepentant sinners. The only fire that God knows is what Jesus brought to earth; it is the Spirit who renews the face of the earth (Psalm 104:1). This will be the fire that will purify the world from all evils, which will destroy any chaff.

 It is not the sinners who must fear the coming of Christ, but sin, whose destruction is announced. Sinners must only rejoice because liberation from the evil that keeps them slaves has arrived.

There are many joys that are not Christian. The Baptist points the way to fill the heart with true joy: to prepare the coming of the Lord in their lives by sharing goods with the poor and by the rejection of any form of abuse of power, or insincerity to the brethren.

Father Fernando Armellini CMF     
Claretian Publications