June 10, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 3:15-18.
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
John, as can be seen so clearly in this passage, was the hinge of salvation history. Here and in the preceding verses he warns of the coming wrath, the judgment, of God in vivid imagery. However, Luke concludes this passage by telling us that John then went about preaching the good news. So, he was God’s voice of displeasure and exhortation to repentance just as the prophets of old were. Unlike the prophets, though, he also preached the good news of salvation through one more powerful to come after him. I wish that Luke had told us what John preached about the good news.
John did not yet realize that Jesus was the one, the Messiah. In fact, some scholars believe that John was a teacher and mentor to Jesus for a time before Jesus’ own baptism and start of his public ministry. John was the harbinger, but he was still rooted in the old covenant of God, seeing the need for purification by fire as well as the Holy Spirit. Of course, in Luke’s mind the Holy Spirit was linked to Pentecost and the tongues of fire that rested upon each of the apostles filling them with the Holy Spirit.
It strikes me that John was preaching to the people whom he already had baptized. That once they had repented and vowed to change, they were ready to hear the good news of salvation. First they had to change their hearts and minds, then John could exhort them to follow through with actions that demonstrated their conviction to change.
Yesterday as Mass began I was thanking God for helping me to hear and discern His word for me and asked Him to give me the strength and will power to convert that understanding into action. And then in the Collect or Opening Prayer I heard Fr. John read, “O God, from whom all good things come, grant that we, who call on you in our need, may at your prompting discern what is right, and by your guidance do it.” It was as if I were hearing it for the first time, like God was answering my prayer. As if He were telling me, “OK, you got it. Now look to me for guidance every day and I’ll help you do it.” It was startling how clearly those words were directed to me.
Maybe that was the gist of the good news that John preached to those he baptized, those who repented and committed to changing their ways. It is good news to me that I can look to God every day and ask him to give me whatever I need to do His will, to convert my good intentions and promises into action, to actually take a step toward realizing His kingdom. My prayers yesterday morning came to mind in the evening and enabled me to overcome my own will. My father-in-law came onto the porch while I had just started catching up with newspapers and having a drink in the quiet and beauty of the evening that I relish so much. I folded the paper, set it down, and gave my attention to Dad without resignation. It’s a little thing, I know, but the point is that the words of those prayers were still in my mind and that God was giving me the guidance I asked for right then and there. He’s willing to do that all the time if I keep myself open to His guidance and do my best to heed it.
It was a good day.