To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
Last year, CNN ran a series on television called Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery. One of the segments was about John the Baptist. I’m afraid I didn’t like John as he was portrayed. He shouted a lot about the coming judgment. There was something scary and unstable about him and I thought to myself: “I don’t know if I would follow this man.”
In the CNN presentation scholars periodically commented on John and his relationship with Jesus. They seemed to say that Jesus was a copy of John, that he got everything from John; he learned everything from John. That made me wonder if I would follow Jesus, if that was the way he was.
I find the scriptures offer a more reliable picture of John and Jesus. Luke’s gospel sets the stage for John’s appearance. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.”
“In the desert.” John preached “in the desert,” in the Jordan valley where pilgrims from northern Israel traveled on their way up to Jerusalem. They’ve taken the time off to go up to the temple and then go back home to their work and life as before. They’ve been walking on rough roads in hot days. They’re stopping to get some water before walking the last 15 miles up to the holy city.
John approaches them. “Something is happening, something big is going on. Something that the prophets have promised. We have to get ready for it. God is ready to do something. Someone is coming. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ God is coming to judge us.”
Yes, there’s an urgency about John, but he’s not insane. He sees there’s something great ready to happen. God, the judge of all is coming. Someone is coming to bring God’s judgment.
When Jesus comes, John is certainly not his teacher. He recognizes Jesus and baptizes him in the Jordan. But Jesus is not a copy of John. Later, from he’s in prison, John sends disciples to Jesus who ask “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another.” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11, 5-6)
Jesus calls himself the face of God’s mercy, the hand of God’s mercy, the gift of God’s mercy. John was waiting for God who is judge, but Jesus reveals God who is kind and merciful.
On March 13, 2015, Pope Francis called for a Holy Year of Mercy, a year to live “in the light of the Lord’s words: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ (Luke 6, 36) The year begins this week, December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and ends on November 20, 2016, “the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe–and the living face of the Father’s mercy.”