Sunday Scriptures

John the Baptist Bridges Old and New Testaments

By Father John P. Cush

We continue in the Gospel passage taken from the Evangelist Saint Luke right where we left off last week — with Saint John the Baptist, the pontifex (the bridge) between the Old and the New Testament. John, as we know, is the last and greatest of the prophets. He stands in the tradition of the great prophets, like Isaiah, Elijah, Hosea, and Zechariah. In order to understand the role of John the Baptist, we might wish to go back to see what the role of the prophet was in the Old Testament.

You see, in the beginning of the Israelite religion, the Lord God had the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). Later, Joseph brings the smallest of the nations, the People of Israel into Egypt in order to save them. They were men who had experienced the very presence of God and were able to lead his people and found the nation.

Later, we see in the history of Israel the great man, Moses, who leads his people from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, a place into which he himself cannot enter. After the death of Moses, the Lord God raises up the Judges, who are basically charismatic warlords, men, and women whom God would raise up from the community of Israel to rule for a specific reason and for a specific period of time.

Then, into the picture, we have the Israelites wanting to become like every other nation, to have a king whom they can see and touch and hear. The Lord God doesn’t want to do this. Israel has a king and it is the Lord God. Yhwh, God himself, warns Israel that if they keep asking for a king, all they will get is trouble, and, eventually, due to their hardness of heart, God grants Kings to the People of Israel, and, as we see, each one is worse than the next! Even the best of the kings like David and Solomon aren’t really completely faithful and sinless and whoa upon whoa come to the Nation of Israel.

Now, at the same time that God permits a king for the people of Israel, he also raises up prophets. The Greek word prophetes means “one who speaks before others,” so the prophet was the one who communicated the Word of God. He was not sanctified for this role by the altar, but by possession of and by the Word of God.

To be blunt, the role of the prophet was to be a nudge. To be that annoying presence in the community always calling back Israel to the reality that, above all else, “God is King!,” and no one other! They did this by radical deeds and stirring words, and, now that the time of salvation has come and the long-awaited Messiah is in the midst, John the Baptist, this last, this forerunner of the Christ, this friend of the Bridegroom, is no different. The Baptist, with his stirring words and outlandish appearance, brings attention not to himself, but to the Word of God.

John’s role is to bring attention to the one who is coming after him, the one who is mightier than he, the Messiah whose sandal strap he is not even worthy to loosen. He is not the Bridegroom. He is the friend of the Bridegroom, the best man who gets everything ready for the coming festivities, which is the coming of the Kingdom of God.

A question then for each and every one of us: do we pay attention to the prophets, those who call us back and remind us that God and God alone is King, in our lives? Are we open to the example of the holy men and women in our own everyday lives? God is revealing his will each day through so many people in our lives, both within and without the walls of his Church.

Are we willing to listen, to be fascinated by them, just like Herod was, even though he was constantly being chastised by the Friend of the Bridegroom, John the Baptist? Look for the prophets in our midst — they are there if only we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-18a

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:10-18