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Fr. Bob Writes – December 16, 2018

Our gospel this Sunday once more highlights the role and ministry of John the Baptist in preparing the people of Israel for the coming of Jesus. Whether the people’s going out to the Jordan to see John was motivated by curiosity or faith, many of the people experienced conversion with a desire to live more in order with God’s will. Thus, we hear groups of tax collectors and soldiersasking what they should do to live more in accord with God’s will. All of usare asked to seek out and follow the general will of God for everyone. Yet eachperson, given his or her specific life situation, will have some specificaspects of God’s will to which he or she must be particularly attentive. Whatparticular things would John point out for you, were you to be there asking aswere those tax collectors and soldiers?

John makes clear that he is not the Messiah. He is the messenger announcing the imminent coming of the Messiah who will baptize with the “Holy Spirit and fire”. While we relate that image specifically to the Pentecost event, the significance of the Holy Spirit and fire here is more generic. Fire is a symbol of purification or refining, representing the need for repentance and reform. Accepting the call to reform, the crowd has been asking John for clarification of specifically how to follow God’s will. Divine inspiration and guidance is the work of the Holy Spirit. In our Advent time of preparation, may we take that to heart, accepting the call to reform, orient our lives to God’s will more perfectly, and present ourselves as more perfect offerings in thanks to Jesus at his coming. 

Fr Bob Writes – December 9, 2018

A voice cries in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6)

Our Gospel this Sunday focuses on the person of John the Baptist and his important role in preparing the Jewish people for the coming of Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah and Savior. In the opening verses of our gospel, Luke provides a historical setting for John’s mission and gives him a great deal of print in his gospel. This not only demonstrates the importance of John as a precursor to Jesus, but also indicates the influence of his ministry. Paul, for whom Luke functioned as secretary, encountered many people during his missionary journeys who had received the baptism of John but did not yet know about Jesus. Paul needed to be very sensitive to their faith, to build on their relationship to John while leading them onward to Jesus Christ. John is given a very significant role in Luke’s gospel, but always in juxtaposition to Jesus whose mother was declared even more blessed than the mother of John, whose birth was even more miraculous, and who pointed his immediate disciples toward Jesus.

John received his call in the desert. Rather than wandering like a hermit in the desert since leaving home in his early teen years, John most likely lived at Qumran overlooking the Dead Sea with a religious community called the Essenes. They practiced a form of ritual baptism as a sign of purification and dedicated themselves to studying and copying the Hebrew scriptures. The community had established itself at Qumran to get away from the influences of the world. John was unique among the members of the community in receiving a call to go out to that surrounding world with the message of repentance.

During the Jewish uprising around 70 AD, the Essenes placed the many scrolls from their library in large clay jars which they hid in nearby caves for safekeeping as they evacuated the site to hold out against the Roman army at Masada, a bit further south along the Dead Sea. All the members of the community died at Masada. No one returned to Qumran, and the jars of scrolls, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were not discovered until the 1940s. From texts found among those scrolls is found indication that the Essenes used the same passage from Isaiah quoted about John, in today’s gospel, (Isaiah 40:3-5) to explain the existence of their community in the desert at Qumran.

This Advent, what are you doing to “prepare the way ” for the coming of Jesus?

(with thanks to Fr Denny Dempsey)

Fr. Bob Writes – November 25, Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

This Sunday, the last of the current church year, is the feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. All the readings, and the psalm, show the false, limited kingdoms of the world confronting the eternal, true kingdom of God and being defeated.

In our gospel, Jesus, the true king of kings, confronts Pontius Pilate, representative of the most powerful kingdom on earth at the time, the Roman Empire.  In Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, four languages are spoken at different times in the dialogue. Aramaic and Hebrew, the two common languages of Jesus and his followers, are the most frequently spoken. There is also Greek, the language of the common person throughout the Roman Empire, employed in conversations of Pilate with his soldiers and other non-Jews. In our gospel’s conversation between Jesus and Pilate, however, regarding Jesus’ kingship, Pilate addresses Jesus in Latin, a language which at the time was spoken only by the elite of the Roman world, the educated and royal class. Jesus’ response in perfect Latin was one way Pilate was given to recognize kingly qualities in Jesus.

Pilate is clearly baffled. Here is a king and a kingdom he has had no experience in dealing with, and he does not know how to respond. His terse remark to Jesus “What is truth?” shows that he lacks the ability to converse with Jesus on the level of his supernatural kingdom. However, he recognizes that Jesus poses no political threat to the Roman Empire and wants to set him free, but the chief priests and elders of the Jews refuse to let that happen and force Pilate into executing Jesus.  However, Pilate has the last laugh on them. He has written on the signboard above Jesus’ cross, which sets out the reasons why the crucified is being executed, the words “The King of the Jews”. When the chief priests protest at this designation of Jesus, Pilate tersely responds: “What I have written, I have written”.

What leads you and me to recognize Jesus as King and to place ourselves under the authority of Christ the King?