Gospel Reflection for Dec. 13, 2020, Second Sunday of Advent

It is not often that we hear the same core Gospel repeated two weeks in a row. While the regular Readings of the ordinary Sundays generally follow through one Gospel in a sequential order, that is not so during the special seasons such as Advent. While last week we heard from Mark’s Gospel, this week we have moved to John’s Gospel. With John the Baptizer still as the focal point, we hear that same precursor language again: John a voice crying in the wilderness. John the Evangelist adds another dimension to the preaching of the Baptizer and includes as well a challenging exchange between him and the priests and Levites.

The crux of their inquiry is the same as that which will cause tension between them and Jesus in his ministry – who are you and what gives you the authority to do this? We know little of the actual background of either John or Jesus. Nothing of what we know suggests that either of them were educated in a rabbinic school. We might discern that John was from a priestly family from what we know in Luke’s Gospel about the annunciation of his birth, but he does not exercise a priestly role nor is he challenged as such by the priests and Levites in this exchange, either.

All that we know – and the most important thing to know – is that both the Baptizer and Jesus are on a divine mission, a mission that transcends and is not dependent upon their credibility in this world. John was sent on his mission to preach forgiveness of sins and to proclaim a time of preparation for the coming of the messiah. Jesus, the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, exercised the mission of inaugurating the Kingdom of God through the Paschal events.

Both men were a mystery to those around them. They spoke and acted with authority at a time when doing so was unusual and not to be expected from ordinary men.

The history of the Church is replete with examples of many men and women who, like the Baptizer, stood apart and, with little to provide credence for them, proclaimed the Kingdom of God. We look to humble and simple servants of the Church, from St. Catherine of Siena, to Dorothy Day and St. Thomas Becket to Blessed Carlo Acutis. All came from ordinary backgrounds with nothing in particular to recommend them, yet they have become sanctified examples of prophets crying in the wilderness inspiring the Church on the path to conversion.

Yet, we also know that not every uncredentialed voice crying out in the wilderness is a prophetic voice. We need careful discernment and the wisdom of the Church to guide and point us in the right direction. We cannot really cast blame on the Pharisees, Priests, Sadducees, Levites and others for their suspicions about John or even Jesus. Their appearance on the scene – and especially John’s entire demeanor – seemingly comes from nowhere and that raises legitimate questions and suspicions. Not everything that is unusual, fascinating, intriguing or inviting is from God. We all know too well that Satan knows how to make evil and sin look good and appealing, and even the right thing to do in a particular circumstance.

One thing that is always true of a prophet is that he or she points beyond and out, and not back at themselves. Prophets challenge us not to follow them for themselves but to follow Jesus Christ and to remain faithful to the tradition while experiencing and responding to a genuine call to conversion. Unfortunately, given the glitz and glamour of staged-events, CGI, and other emotionally charged music, it can be very easy to fall prey to any charlatan or merely self-proclaimed prophet.

John pointed to Jesus. The prophets of the Old Testament always pointed to God and announced his word. The saints always pointed beyond themselves. None of them ever claimed to be more than humble sinners at the service of the Lord.

Today, due to the constant drone of social media there are many voices vying for our attention, many of whom claim to have a handle on the truth. Because of the nature of the technology itself every voice seems to speak with authority, yet what authority has been given to any of them?

Our time, perhaps more so than any other, demands prayerful discerning hearts as we listen for the call of the true prophets crying out in the wilderness, pointing us to Jesus and eternal life.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.