Is 11:1-10; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12
First Reading: The prophet Isaiah, accustomed to fluctuations in the quality of the Davidic dynasty, appears hopeful that even a shoot can flower into realized hopes. The prophet also speaks of the gifts or qualities of that future leader which will be provided by the Lord.
Second Reading: St. Paul envisions a Roman Christian community made up of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Apparently, tensions between the two groups arose and St. Paul’s response recommends establishing a community that provides a welcome for all.
Gospel: The message of John the Baptist is clearly one of conversion. It asks that his listeners not only turn away from their former way of life but also turn toward a kingdom that will be proclaimed. That kingdom will require a new attitude of openness, an attitude that will enable one to go where the Messiah will lead even if it is unfamiliar and uncharted.
For most of us, our homes are very special places. We try to make them places of safety, peace and welcome. Daily life outside the home provides enough challenge for us; home means a place where we can enjoy some rest and build relationships that are meaningful and lasting.
That model of home colors our daily lives outside the home as well. We desperately want a sense of calm and hope to dominate our days. We welcome into our lives those people that support us and avoid those who challenge us and our vision.
With that human dynamic as our base, what do the scriptural readings say to us today?
Interestingly, in the first reading the prophet Isaiah speaks of some future time when someone sent from the Lord will bring about a transformation characterized by peace and harmony. It appears to envision a dramatic reversal of all the chaotic effects of original sin.
So peaceful is that vision that “the wolf will be the guest of the lamb.” Quite a dinner indeed, when mortal enemies sit down together. That is the vision presented to us.
In that context then, people saw Jesus as the kind of person who embodied the hope and vision of Isaiah. People wanted to be near him because he gave them a sense of well-being and peace. They invited Jesus into their villages and homes and welcomed him as the healer and prophet of God.
While in the Gospels we read about Jesus and the disciples as guests in people’s homes, those same Gospels never record anyone inviting John the Baptist. Why?
From what is said of John in the New Testament, he was absolutely honest. He told the people that they were sinful and unfaithful to the covenants. He said that their piety was fake and just for show, and that their hearts were hard and provided no place for God or neighbor. Change your lives or you will die in your sins was his message.
Famous as John might have been, few wanted that kind of message around their dinner table. They liked to listen to John because his message applied to their neighbors but somehow did not apply to them. John’s brutal demand for a change of life was too much for many people.
Would you invite John into your home, into your lives? Besides the challenge of living on locusts and wild honey, are we ready for his message? He is a man of truth who does not nuance the message.
In the midst of a complex and often harsh world, home for us is a place of safety and comfort. That’s why we are very careful about who we welcome into our homes. We don’t want to be disturbed. Candidly, we have become comfortable keeping some of the commandments and loving some of our neighbors.
But who then is the John the Baptist we need in our lives? Who is it to which we entrust the right to tell us the truth? If we only invite into our homes and lives those who agree with us and support our vision, where is the critique that we all know we need?
The figure of John the Baptist is recorded in Scripture, but John lives today in those whom the Lord sends to prepare his way. If we refuse to accept the John the Baptist God sends, how will we ever be able to face the Lord, our judge, when he comes in glory?
FATHER BOBER, Ph.D., is pastor of St. Killian Parish, Mars, Pennsylvania.