Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Am The Voice Of One Crying Out In The Desert: "Make Straight The Way Of The Lord!"

Saturday before Epiphany

Reading I                1 John 2:22-28
Who is the liar?
Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ.
Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.
Anyone who denies the Son does not have the Father,
but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well.
Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you.
If what you heard from the beginning remains in you,
then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.
I write you these things about those who would deceive you.
As for you,
the anointing that you received from him remains in you,
so that you do not need anyone to teach you.
But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false;
just as it taught you, remain in him.
And now, children, remain in him,
so that when he appears we may have confidence
and not be put to shame by him at his coming.


Today’s Reading from the First Epistle of John continues outlining the conditions for “walking in the light”. It begins with warnings about the Antichrist. “Whoever denies the Jesus is the Christ” is an antichrist. The antichrist is a liar, totally opposed to Jesus Christ, who says, in another place: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” To deny the Son is at the same time to deny the Father; likewise, to acknowledge the Son is to acknowledge the Father. Some of the Gnostics taught that the Son of God entered the man Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan, and left him after the Last Supper, before the Passion began. Yet, Jesus himself affirms elsewhere in the Gospels: “I and the Father are One.”

In the next paragraph we read, “You do not need anyone to teach you.” This saying of Jesus needs to be properly understood. Since the New Testament scriptures constantly advocate teaching (Matthew 28:20, 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11; Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24), John is certainly not ruling out human teachers; in fact, he has referred to them (“What you have heard from the beginning”). At the time when he wrote this epistle, Gnostic teachers were insisting that the teaching of the apostles needed to be supplemented – and superseded – by the “higher knowledge” which the Gnostics claimed that only they possessed.

What John is saying is that the teaching which Christians receive from their Spirit-guided teachers is not only sufficient, but is the only reliable source for the true message. The writer appeals to the readers to remain faithful to the teaching they have received from the beginning, and not to be led astray. Further, he insists that it is not enough to have heard the teaching, or to know its content, and be capable of repeating it word for word, as a young child would recite the alphabet or an older one the times tables. The message of the teaching needs to be wholly assimilated, so that it becomes an integral part of my life – my words, my actions, my relationships. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20: “I live; yet it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” By conforming myself to Christ – or more accurately, by allowing the Holy Spirit to conform me ever more closely to Christ – I become a “new” person.

The promise is that of eternal life. But that life does not begin at some future moment when we leave this world for “a better one”. It begins immediately when we attach ourselves to Jesus and his Way. The writer of this epistle has a favorite expression: “You … remain in the Son and in the Father”. That is the source of a life to be experienced here and now, a life which began at the moment of baptism.

Through this union with the Son and the Father, we are “anointed” by the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand all that we need to know if we would live the life that Jesus offers to us. It is for us, then, to “remain in him.” Then and only then will we be ready at the moment he comes to call us to himself.

“And now, children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not be put to shame by him at his coming.”

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Responsorial         Psalm 98
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

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Gospel                   John 1:19-28

This is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted,
“I am not the Christ.”

So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”

He said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as Isaiah the prophet said.”

Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,
where John was baptizing.


From today through January 5 we will be reading from the beginning of John’s gospel after the Prologue and up to the story of the wedding at Cana - corresponding to Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2. It begins with John the Baptist’s testimony about himself and then Jesus revealing himself to his first disciples. It finishes with the wedding feast at Cana, described as the first of the “signs” performed by Jesus. There are seven such “signs” altogether in his gospel. The whole section covers just one week which reflects the first week of creation in the book of Genesis. Here there is a new creation under way.

The section is divided as follows:
1. John the Baptist’s negative testimony about himself.
2. His positive testimony about Jesus.
3. The revelation of Jesus to Andrew and Peter (in that order)
4. The revelation of Jesus to Philip and Nathanael (also in that order).
5. The wedding feast at Cana.

John the Baptist’s negative testimony about himself:
Today we look at the first section. It is clear that John the Baptist was causing something of a stir with his preaching. So, officials were sent out from the Temple in Jerusalem to make some enquiries. Because he said he was not the long-awaited Messiah, they wanted to know who he was. He said he was not Elijah (whose re-appearance was expected to signal the imminent arrival of the Messiah) come again nor was he a Prophet like Moses. His questioners persisted. They had to bring back some information to the authorities in Jerusalem. John answered them with a modified version of words from Isaiah (40:3):

I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord’.

This still does not satisfy and now some Pharisees - distinct from the priests who were all Sadducees - want to know why John is baptizing when he is neither the Messiah, nor Elijah nor the Prophet.

John says that he is just baptizing with water. “But there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie”. By these words he implies that someone who is really a Prophet is on the way bringing with him a much greater baptism. John is simply preparing the way by a baptism whose emphasis is on purification and repentance. The new baptism will bring the power of God’s Spirit.

Obviously, there is much in John the Baptist’s role with which we can identify. John preceded Jesus in time and prepared people for his coming. We rather are called to precede Jesus in other ways by making it possible for people to come to know him and to follow him. We are not the Light but we are called to give constant witness to the Light. Jesus said that he was the Light of the World (John 8:12) but he also said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Do I see myself as reflecting the light of Jesus to others?

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