Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Third Sunday of Advent 2020

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December 11, 2020

Begin your preparation of the Third Week of Advent with a reflection by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. This content is 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 December 13 2020. 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. Picture: Holy Family Parish, Marinette, Wisconsin

John 1:6-8, 19-28

A man named John was sent from God.  He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent out priests and Levites (to him) to ask him, “Who are you?”  He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Messiah.”  So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”  So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said:  “I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord,”‘ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

Some Pharisees were also sent.  They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?”  John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”  This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


John’s father, Zechariah, was a highly respected rural priest. In a society where a person’s role and status in the community was largely determined by one’s family, John was acting out of character. He should have been following in his father’s footsteps as a respectable member of a priestly class. Neither is his behavior like one of the disgruntled priests who became separated from the aristocratic priests of Jerusalem. The wealth and lifestyle of the Jerusalem priests alienated some. Instead, John’s appearance and way of life seemed more typical of one who had assumed the role of a prophet, living apart from the religious leaders of the day.

Like a prophet, John spoke the desire of God: that the people should live their relationship with God more faithfully. His baptism was a sign of a person’s repentance. Baptisms were common and had a variety of meanings. Naaman’s washing in the Jordan would have been understood as a kind of baptism (2 Kings 5:14). High priests were required to participate in rites of purification before and after rites of atonement (Leviticus 16:4). Women were required to perform a form of baptism after their period of menstruation (Leviticus 15). So it is not so unusual that John’s presence has raised some questions for the religious authorities.

The priests and Pharisees have come to John to discover who he is. Who is this person, out in the desert, calling people to repentance and baptizing? He tells them that he is not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. At this time, there was no clear understanding of who the Messiah might be, or even what kind of role the Messiah would play. The term messiah means “anointed one.” In their history, the Jews had anointed people for a variety of reasons. Kings, priests, and some prophets had been anointed.

There were those who believed that the Baptist himself was the Messiah. Nevertheless, John denies that he is the Messiah, no matter how one understands that term. John announces that there is one among them so great that he is not worthy to undo his sandals, the role of one’s lowliest servant.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Are you aware of times or situations when your behavior was not in harmony with your family’s expectations?
  2. Do you know people who have had to break from their family in order to respond faithfully to what they believed God was calling them to do?
  3. Who are the people today who seem to see the presence of God even in difficult times?
  4. What changes have the world pandemic brought to your life? Are any of those changes helping you to live your life more aware of your relationship to God, others, and people throughout the world?
  5. John’s baptism was a sign of one’s repentance. What are the signs that you have changed relationships to yourself and others?
  6. Can you talk with God now about your ability to recognize and even praise God in the good and difficult times of your life?


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