As we anticipate the Second Sunday of Advent, we offer a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for your prayer. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection Dec 1 2019 First Sunday Advent. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photos: The Cathedral and Basilica of St. Louis, Missouri
In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
This the second week in the new church year. Our gospel again is from Matthew. Matthew’s description of the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist is much different than Luke’s. Luke, from the beginning of his Gospel, informs his readers how Jesus and John are related. He compares and contrasts the two men while always emphasizing how Jesus is more significant. In today’s gospel, there is no mention of the fact that John and Jesus are cousins. This is true throughout Matthew’s entire gospel. Instead, Matthew focuses on John as a prophet-person of the day, who speaks the word of God in preparing God’s people for things to come.
As Matthew describes John’s food and dress, people would be reminded of the great prophets like Samson, Samuel, and Elijah. All of them called people to be a force of resistance against injustices. In that great tradition, John preaches repentance that focuses on social change. John addresses them not as individuals but as groups within society. In order to emphasize the connection between repentance and changing one’s life, John called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers,” understood as offspring of snakes. The Pharisees drew importance on maintaining their ancestral heritage by faithfully keeping religious traditions. To call them offspring of snakes would hold them accountable for their “show” of repentance without the “good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”
At that time there was great unrest with authority, both civil and religious. Rome and the priestly aristocracy of Jerusalem exploited the common person by not confronting the systems that kept most people in need even the basic necessities for life. Ancestral property was confiscated, and taxes were unaffordably high. The social climate was one of unrest and desire for change. Many gave in to grumbling and complaining. Others looked for the Messiah, someone from the outside, to bring about the changes for which they longed. Instead of giving in to grumbling and complaining, John preached repentance in order to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. But John looked for a Messiah who would come with power to change the world order of the day. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.” (Matthew 3:11)
The gospel text that the Church has chosen for this second Sunday of advent sets up a challenge to use this time of advent not just to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but also the total life, mission, and lived reality of the Kingdom of God that Jesus’ birth inaugurated. It calls the church to look beyond individual transformation to changes in society and our institutions that are needed, and ask what part we might be asked to play in what is needed in our culture and society.
1. What are some of the things you enjoy most about these days before Christmas?
2. How does today’s gospel fit with the way you have been thinking about the coming of Christmas?
3. Have there been people in your life who called you to think of your relationship with God in a new way? What was it about them that allowed you to hear their message?
4. What comes to mind as you hear Matthew describing John as being in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey and preaching penance?
5. What are some of the things that arise in you as you hear John’s message in today’s gospel?
6. By coming out to be baptized, people were publicly admitting their faults. Where do you experience that same willingness to recognize the need to change?
7. What impact does that willingness have on their lives and the lives of others?
8. Can you take some time to talk with God about your desire to use this time before Christmas as a time for preparation for living the values of God’s reign, God’s desire to raise up prophetic voices in every age, or your own hopes for changes within our society?