Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Sunday Word

John the Baptist
Third Sunday of Advent

Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
Thes 5:16-24
Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

The Gospel writer opens with a remarkable, almost mystical hymn-like prologue. But sandwiched between these lyrical texts about light and creation, are the intrusive, almost awkward verses about John the Baptist. It seems the moment Jesus is first mentioned, the Gospel writer feels constrained to discuss John the Baptist as well. While the Baptist is positively defined as being "from God," the writer's most forceful sentence here is a declaration about who John the Baptist is not. John is "not the light."  The light was still "coming into the world."

In John's gospel, however, recurring references to the Baptist suggest that Jesus and John preached and baptized concurrently for some time. But in all he does and in all he says, the Baptist always witnesses to Jesus and his messianic identity.

John the Baptist refrains from voicing the messianic title at this point. But he clearly alludes to the greatness of this one who is yet to come. John equates his own status before this one to come as that of a slave--even less than a slave. It is one of the slave's duties to untie his master's sandals. But John the Baptist modestly denies that he is fit even to perform this duty.