SUNDAY'S PAGES
Top Planning Resources for Sunday
SUNDAY'S PAGES
Top Planning Resources for Sunday

🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫 WORD TO EUCHARIST 🟫🟫 GOSPEL 🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫🟫

From Word to Eucharist

Do we act like we are consuming (containing) the Lord, or rather that we are consumed by him?  Let us listen to John’s witness and make it our own.

READ MORE at Lector Works

Fr. Tony’s Homilies

Overview
1st & 2nd Reading
Gospel Exegesis
Life Messages
Homily Illustrations
Jokes of the Week

Faith Sharing,
Discussion,
Bible Study

Over 50 questions each week from which to pick and choose.

Larry Broding
Fr. Eamon Tobin
Fr. Clement Thibodeau
Vince Contreras

INTROFIRSTPSALMSECONDGOSPELCATENA AUREA

Sunday Commentary

3B Advent

USCCB BULLETIN INSERT
LPi BULLETIN INSERT

If the Messiah has come for the broken, the poor, the oppressed, the captive, the ones in need of vindication, do we see with clarity our deep need for a Savior? Are we utterly convinced of our own poverty of spirit, imprisonment by sin and desires of this world, and brokenness of heart?

SOURCE: LPi Connect

Getting Started

Liturgical and pastoral resources from National Catholic Reporter’s Celebration
INTRO TO READINGS

The question of a lifetime

by Sr. Mary M. McGlone — 2017

“Who are you?” That question may be asking for the most basic information possible, or it could be requesting a much deeper response that can only be answered by an entire lifetime. A lot depends on the context. The question is different when asked during a social event or at a doctor’s office. When you appear at a school to pick up a child, there’s a protective, legal reason for the question. If you are found walking the halls at the White House without a name tag, blocking traffic by holding up a sign in a busy intersection, or walking uninvited to the pulpit during Sunday Mass at the cathedral, it has other implications. In the latter cases, the question could well be stated as, “Just who do you think you are?” The tone implied in the last one is quite possibly the way the priests and Levites were talking to John.

Today’s Gospel tells us that religious leaders from Jerusalem (think the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) went to find John the Baptist and asked, “Who are you?”

What on earth made John begin the dialogue by saying “I am not the Christ.” It seems that John had only one thing on his mind. He was so focused on the coming of the Messiah that the first thing he thought of saying was not “I am the son of Zachariah,”or “I’m a preacher,” or “I’m a guy with an unusual diet and odd taste in clothes.” No, John simply said, “I am not the Christ.”

The ensuing interrogation makes it sound as if the officials thought they might be talking to a nut case. Picture them glancing at one another, subtly signaling who should ask the next question. One raises his eyebrows and asks, “So, then, are you Elijah? You know, the prophet who flew out of the world in a fiery chariot?” When John says, “No, I am not,” the next inquirer, trying for all the world to look as if he’s taking the question seriously himself, says, “Are you Moses, the Prophet?” John’s quick “No,” seems to have aimed at telling them to stop the games. So, they get serious: “Important people in Jerusalem have sent us to ask this. What should we tell them?”

We can almost picture John thinking, “Well, this is my chance. I’ll tell them something they have to ponder and perhaps it will get through to them.” So, he quotes Isaiah, “I am the voice crying out, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord!’ ”

John’s interrogators refused to take the bait. John was ready to involve them in a discussion of what God was doing in their midst. Instead, they brought the question back to his identity and qualifications as a person preaching hope and change. “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or Moses, why are you riling up the people?” John met them at their level. If they weren’t going to let their spiritual curiosity be piqued beyond suspicion of him, all he could say is, “You’ve not seen anything yet!”

This interaction implies that John had nothing to say about himself that did not relate to the coming Christ. From what we hear in the rest of the Gospels, that’s a pretty accurate thumbnail portrait of this Advent prophet. He knew who he was as someone permeated by grace, impelled by the Spirit of God.

This Third Sunday of Advent presents us with lots of possibilities for our pondering. On one hand, we might hear these readings as an invitation to introspection. They invite us to take the time to ask ourselves when and how God’s spirit has welled up in us, confirming our faith and moving us to say “Yes” to God, the future and the vocation we have received as Christians.

Getting in touch with our own sense of call is an important form of prayer as it both reminds us of past moments of grace and attunes us to those to come.

Today’s readings also offer us criteria for discernment about the messages we hear in our world today. John awoke something in his people, and the religious leaders were concerned about it. We are surrounded by attention-getting calls to think and do, to buy or believe different messages. How do we discern?

Today’s readings offer at least three criteria for knowing what is of God — in ourselves and others. Isaiah tells us that God’s spirit consistently moves on behalf of people who are left behind, the poor, brokenhearted and immobilized. Paul tells us that one essential mark of true believers is the joy that comes from knowing how good God is. John’s testimony tells us that those moved by God always point beyond themselves.

The question we are left with from today’s readings is, “How does your care for others, your joy and your awareness of God tell others who you are?”

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
LITURGICAL PLANNING

Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday

by Lawrence Mick — 2017

Today is known traditionally as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, marking the half-way point through the Sundays of Advent. (This year it’s closer to two-thirds of the way through the season.) Rose vestments may be used today if you have them, and the rose candle on the Advent wreath is lit today.

The first and second readings today proclaim a message of joy. The prophet Isaiah proclaims, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.”

St. Paul commands us to “rejoice always.”

Between these two readings we have an unusual responsorial — not a psalm but the Canticle of Mary. The refrain easily connects the two readings: “My soul rejoices in my God.” If you know a good setting of the Magnificat, you could use it here, especially it if is composed in a responsorial structure. If your parish does not know at least one good setting of this canticle, it’s time to learn one or two. It’s one of the best songs we can use on any Marian feast as well as today. Planners should work with the parish musicians to see what is available in your hymnals or what other sources can be mined.

Some might raise a question about this emphasis on joy. If Advent is a time for lament, what are we doing rejoicing? The answer lies in the virtue of hope. We lament the various ways in which the kingdom has not yet come. But at the same time, we rejoice in the signs of the kingdom that are already in our midst.

Theologians speak of the “already” and the “not yet.” The kingdom has already come, as Jesus proclaimed, but it has not arrived in its fullness yet. So, we rejoice in what has come to pass while we still yearn and lament for what is still to come.

Planners could use the “already but not yet” format to compose petitions this week. Each petition could begin with a phrase like “We rejoice because …” and then add “yet we yearn (or lament) because … and so we pray …” This could be used at any time during the year, of course, but it seems especially appropriate in this season.

Preachers could support this effort by reminding people of the “in-between” time in which we live, helping parishioners to understand Advent as remembering the first coming of Christ and yearning for the second coming.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved.
PRAYERS FOR MASS

Presider’s Introduction

by Joan DeMerchant — 2017

Today we are in the rhythm of both gratitude and yearning. Between the two, there is great space for hope. We are learning to be a patient people, continuing on, grateful but also impatient, in hope. We don’t give up hoping just because some of the things we long for in God’s reign of peace and justice have already happened. We’re there, and yet we’re not. So much remains unfinished; so many have not yet experienced what has been promised.

Penitential Act

by Joan DeMerchant — 2017
  • Lord Jesus, you were promised to those waiting for you: Lord, have mercy.
  • Christ Jesus, you were foretold as the coming anointed one: Christ, have mercy.
  • Lord Jesus, you will come to us who yearn for you: Lord, have mercy.

Prayer of the Faithful

by Joan DeMerchant — 2017

Presider: Let us pray, my friends, for the fulfillment of humanity’s yearnings.

Minister: The church is called to rejoice and be grateful, and yet we yearn because there is so much more to come … so in hope and anticipation, we pray

  • We have tasted peace, yet so many live in the midst of violence and war … so in hope and anticipation, we pray
  • We promote justice, but so many live without work, housing, healthcare or adequate education … so in hope and anticipation, we pray
  • We live in freedom, but so many are held captive by inequality, prejudice and lack of opportunity …  so in hope and anticipation, we pray
  • There are signs of love around us, but we are a flawed, often unloving people … so in hope and anticipation, we pray
  • Our community is grateful for so much, but people among us are still sick, discouraged, dying and grieving … so in hope and anticipation, we pray

Presider: God of hope, we thank you and rejoice for all you have already done for us. We see your work in many ways and places. But our yearning is not yet satisfied, and there are those who have lost hope. Keep us mindful of your promises and ready to welcome your Son among us. We ask this in his holy name, Amen.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

First Reading

3B Advent

commentary
The Cathedral of Brasília is the Roman Catholic cathedral serving Brasília, Brazil, and serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Brasília. Figuratively guarding the exterior of the church stand the four Evangelists.
The nave of the church exists entirely underground. Visitors enter into the cathedral through a dark tunnel and emerge into a bright space with a glass roof reaching up, open, to the light of the sky. On the surface this concrete-framed hyperboloid ceiling represents two hands moving upward to heaven. It appears to spring up out of the ground.
The cathedral is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Aparecida.

As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. — Isaiah 61:11

PHOTO CONNECTION
The Cathedral of Brasília is the Roman Catholic cathedral serving Brasília, Brazil, and serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Brasília. Figuratively guarding the exterior of the church stand the four Evangelists.
The nave of the church exists entirely underground. Visitors enter into the cathedral through a dark tunnel and emerge into a bright space with a glass roof reaching up, open, to the light of the sky. On the surface this concrete-framed hyperboloid ceiling represents two hands moving upward to heaven. It appears to spring up out of the ground.
The cathedral is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Aparecida.

God is the joy of my soul

  • The third section of the Book of Isaiah was written shortly after Israel’s return from exile.
  • Today’s passage connects anointing and being filled with the Spirit of God by using vocabulary similar to the servant songs in Second Isaiah.
  • The prophet proclaims a year of jubilee when debts are forgiven and land is returned to its original owner.
SOURCE: Our Sunday Visitor

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REFLECTIONS

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Fr. Clement Thibodeau

God’s year of favor is here. All nations will come.

FIRST READING—Three different writers from different time periods have contributed to what we know today as the Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 from the great Isaiah of Jerusalem, before the Babylonian Exile (587-537 BCE); Chapters 40-55 during the period of Exile; Chapters 56-66 toward the end or shortly after the Exile. There is a deeply felt sense of hope after the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. Isaiah witnesses to God’s truth that God will come personally to sustain the chosen ones. By extension, we apply this prophecy to Jesus who is God “in person,” coming to sustain the weary.In Israel, a jubilee year was a time of great blessing when God showered blessings on the poor and all debts were forgiven. The Messiah comes to establish justice and bring relief to those who are poor. The bride and groom theme suggests a time of fertility and abundance of food.

© 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.

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Fr. Eamon Tobin

The Spirit of the Lord

FIRST READING—Our First Reading is from Third Isaiah (chs 56-66)in which he preaches to exiles who have returned from Babylon to a devastated land.

He begins by speaking of his call “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me.” Then he describes his mission:“ God has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted….”

These are the words Jesus uses to describe his mission (Lk 4:14-21).

The “I” in “I rejoice heartily”seems to be a reference to Jerusalem, who is full of joy that God has come to forgive her sins and to restore her to righteousness. The prophet uses spousal imagery to describe Israel’s covenantal relationship with God (“…like a bride bedecked with her jewels”).

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

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Sr. Mary McGlone

A discerning look at our communal and personal life

FIRST READING—The opening verse of this selection from Third Isaiah imitates the Servant Songs of Second Isaiah and will, in turn, be quoted by Jesus and be used to refer to John the Baptist. Scholars tell us that the Book of Isaiah is a compilation from at least three different authors who lived in three different eras. That shows us a little of how our scriptural tradition builds on itself. Key stories and passages are reworked from one age to the next to shed light on how God is active in any given moment of history. Today’s selection from Isaiah 61 sheds a particular light on the other two readings and invites us to take a discerning look at our communal and personal life.

When the prophet says that the spirit of the Lord has come upon him and anointed him, he’s using two distinct and complementary images, images we might take as contemplative and active. By saying that the spirit of the Lord has come upon him, Isaiah is talking about the state of his heart and soul. For Isaiah, God’s command is not simply an outside authority demanding obedience; the love of God has inhabited him. This is similar to what Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans: God’s very spirit is alive in him and moves him to pray, to cry out. That’s the interior dimension of prophecy, it’s the experience available to any beloved lover of God.

The second thing Isaiah says about himself is that God has anointed him. This refers to the traditional way of commissioning a king and to what we do in baptism, confirmation and ordination. This type of anointing signifies a vocation in the sense of being given a commission. To be anointed is to be sent in God’s name.

When this passage is applied to John the Baptist, it comments on the question the authorities put to John: “Who are you?” John’s response intimated that he was a prophet. How are we to know who is genuinely a prophet and who is a charlatan, claiming divine sanction while actually motivated by lesser, potentially destructive motives?

The reading from Isaiah gives us a good basis for discernment. First, a genuine prophet will be carrying out God’s will, primarily on behalf of the marginalized, the poor or brokenhearted, the captives, people who are hopelessly indebted. Another indication in which Isaiah and Paul coincide is that the person who is of God will exhibit the joy that comes from knowing that the love of God is the ultimate driving force of the universe. While there is much to do, there is never a reason to despair. The person in touch with the spirit of God within her or himself will know that their task is to be part of preparing the way for the God who will institute justice and joyful praise among all people.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 2017 Reflections, 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

TIPS FOR READERS

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Paul J. Schlachter

Paul’s thoughts

The reading has two separate passages linked together for better effect.  They sound to me like a call and its response. 

First comes the announcement of a program of prophecy.  The Lord has anointed me.  He has sent me to bring glad tidings.  I remember that Luke put these same words in the mouth of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. 

It is a program of freeing people of their crushing burdens (poverty, distress, captivity, prison, debt), of threats to fullness of life, so they can begin anew and rebuild their hopes.  What kind of assuring voice can I provide as I banish all these barriers to abundant life?  There is a year of favor from the Lord

Once again we could have begun Advent with this reading!  But the church year is young.  And we need all the reminding we can get that a new birth is coming.

Next is the response, a model thanksgiving prayer.  I rejoice heartily in my Lord.  Do you hear the echoes of Mary’s praises in the Magnificat?  We are at our best when God is great (Islam says this, too), when God’s way’s prevail, when justice and peace spring up before all the nations

Listen to the images that evoke new beginnings.  Speak them out with the same freshness: a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, a bride bedecked with her jewels, the earth brings forth its plants.

Key elements

Central theme: the prophet’s announcement of a year of favor is a clean break with the status quo, an invitation to let God into our world where we have closed off most options for ourselves and others.  Release to the prisoners

Message for our assembly: A new birth is coming.  Let us turn from our cynical ‘been there, done that’ ways and welcome the approach of God’s kingdom.

I will challenge myself: To get excited about God at work in our day, to bear witness to the spirit of the Lord God.  Like John in today’s Gospel, like Mary in her Magnificat, I will find an unassuming way to declare these lines to the church.

SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at LectorWorks.org
Greg Warnusz

Intro for listeners

As the Judeans were returning home from an exile of about sixty years, the third prophet known as Isaiah interpreted the events. A year of favor is another name for a jubilee, when the custom was to free slaves, forgive debts and let families have back ancestral lost land.

Oral interpretation

Our Liturgical Setting:Earlier Christians felt the need to lighten up in the middle of penitential Lent. Advent was later made to imitate that feature of Lent. So we have a Sunday when we hear from an Old Testament prophet rejoicing at what God is doing, a New Testament apostle instructing a congregation to rejoice and give thanks, and John the Baptist speaking tantalizingly about making straight the pathway for the Lord, “one among you whom you do not recognize.” So it’s a happy day, but not a frivolous one.

The Historical Situation:This section of Isaiah comes from the turbulent period when the Jews were trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland after a few generations as slaves exiled in Babylon. The prophet sees himself as appointed to declare how good things are about to become (the brokenhearted healed, captives liberated, etc.). A “year of favor” was what we’ve come to call a jubilee, a period for the remission of debts, freeing of slaves, and “starting over” with a clean slate in all social relations.

Proclaiming It: Because that year of favor was such a big deal, you should try to announce it with the same powerful voice the prophet would have used. A – YEAR – OF – FAVOR – FROM – THE – LORD!!! Isaiah is joyful, to be sure, but he’s not giddy. He’s triumphal and authoritative.

At the end of the second paragraph, too, the lector should slow down and declare solemnly what is God’s bottom line here: So will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up.

SOURCE: Greg Warnusz at LectorPrep.org

FOCAL THEMES

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Theology of Work Commentary

Work’s ultimate meaning

Throughout the book, Isaiah encourages Israel with the hope that God will eventually put to right the wrongs the people are suffering in the present. Work, and the fruits of work, are included in this hope. By chapter 40, as the book moves from telling the truth about the present to telling the truth about the future, the sense of hope increases. In chapters 60-66, this hope is finally expressed in full.

Chapters 60-66 are rich with vivid portraits of the perfect kingdom of God. In fact, a large fraction of New Testament imagery and theology are drawn from these chapters in Isaiah. The final chapters of the New Testament (Revelation 21 and 22) are, in essence, a recapitulation of Isaiah 65-66 in Christian terms.

It may be surprising to some how much of Isaiah 60-66 is related to work and the outcomes of work. The things people work for in life come to complete fruition at last, including:

  • Markets and trading, including the movement of gold and silver (Is. 60:6,9), the bringing of firs, and the opening of gates for trade. “Your gates shall always be open; day and night they shall not be shut, so that nations shall bring you their wealth, with their kings led in procession.” (Is. 60:11)
  • Agricultural and forest products: including frankincense, flocks, rams (Is. 60:6-7), cypress and pine (Is. 6:13)
  • Transportation by land and sea (Is. 60:6, 60:9), and even perhaps by air (Is. 60:8)
  • Justice and peace (Is. 60:17-18, 61:8, 66:16)
  • Social services (Is. 61:1-4)
  • Food and drink (Is. 65:13)
  • Health and long life (Is. 65:20)
  • Construction and housing (Is. 65:21)
  • Prosperity and wealth (Is. 66:12)
SOURCE: © 2014 Theology of Work Project, Inc.; Used with permission. (Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.)

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Life Recovery Bible

Rebuilding our broken life

61:4-7 God promised rebuilding, prosperity, ministry, and honor to the people of Israel. God promises these same things, though in different forms, to all his children, Jew or Gentile. He wants to rebuild our broken life, make us spiritually prosperous, give our life significance through ministry to others, and fill us with honor through his love and grace.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Life Recovery Bible notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Sermon Writer

Yahweh has anointed me

Yahweh has anointed me

“The spirit of the Lord Yahweh is on me” (v. 1a). The first question about this section is the identity of the speaker. Upon whom has the spirit of God fallen? Who has the Lord anointed? The following suggest that it is the servant, the messianic figure who figured prominently in chapters 42, 49-50, and 52-53.

• God said of the servant, “I have put my spirit on him” (42:1). Now the servant says, “The spirit of the Lord Yahweh is on me.” God said that the servant was “to open the blind eyes, to bring the prisoners out of the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness out of the prison” (42:7; see also 49:9). Now the servant says that he is “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”

• Jesus quoted this verse, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me” (Luke 4:18). He then declared,“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

When the spirit of the Lord comes upon a person, it usually confers power (Judges 3:10; 6-34; 14:6, 19, etc., etc., etc.). In the book of Isaiah, the phrase occurs four times, and is associated with conferring wisdom and understanding (11:2; 40:13ff.) and bringing relief to those in need (61:1; 63:14).

“because Yahweh has anointed me” (v. 1b). Anointing with oil is used for various purposes (healing, burial, or expressing grief or joy). Most especially, it is used to designate a person for a significant role. In the Old Testament, prophets were anointed (1 Kings 19:16). Priests were anointed (Exodus 40:13-15). Kings were anointed (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:3, 12-13; 2 Samuel 23:1; 1 Kings 1:39).

The New Testament speaks of Jesus as anointed (John 20:31; Acts 5:42; Hebrews 1:9, etc.). Both titles that we recognize as messianic (Hebrew messias and Greek Christos) mean anointed. In the New Testament, Christos (Christ) is used almost exclusively. Messias (Messiah) is found twice (John 1:41; 4:25), and both of those verses also use Christos—”We have found the messias, which means Christos” (John 1:41).

“to preach good news (bas·ser) to the humble” (v. 1c). In the Old Testament, bas·ser often refers to the good news of a military victory. The fact that this is good news for “the humble” suggests that it might involve victory over an oppressor. The Old Testament uses bas·ser to refer to the salvation that Yahweh brings to his people (Baker and Carpenter, 170). We should understand these verses as speaking of God’s salvation on two levels. On the first level, they speak of God freeing the exiles from their servitude—giving them a chance to return to Jerusalem. On the second level, they speak of God freeing them (and us) from sin.

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (v. 1d). Note the verb. We would usually say, “to comfort the brokenhearted,” but this says “to bind up the brokenhearted.” Binding-up goes beyond the usual comforting techniques, such as listening. Binding-up therapy is heart surgery. It pulls together the broken pieces—repairs the breaks.

This is the spiritual heart, of course. When we speak of people who are brokenhearted, we are talking about the spirit—the emotions. A brokenhearted person is a person who is grieving—who has lost hope. But God has sent the servant/messiah to repair the damage—to remove the cause of grief—to give the brokenhearted person reason to hope once again.

“to proclaim (liq·ro) liberty to the captives” (v. 1e). This is true on two levels. God’s people have worked in prison ministries and elsewhere to help prisoners to feel an inner freedom, even though they must spend their days under lock and key. But it is also true that God’s people have worked to set prisoners free where that was appropriate—and have done what they could to help them to make a successful transition into society.

These words are reminiscent of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:10, 13; 27:24; Jeremiah 34:8-10). Every seventh year (a sabbatical year), the Israelites were to allow land to lie fallow and to free male Hebrew slaves. It was a year of rest for land, draft animals, and humans alike (Exodus 21:1-11; Leviticus 25:20-21; Deuteronomy 15:12-18).

Every fiftieth year (the year that ends seven sabbatical years—the Year of Jubilee), the Israelites were given the opportunity to redeem any land that had been sold—the idea being that the land belonged to God and was intended for use by those to whom God had originally given it. Any Israelites who had been forced into indentured service were to be released.

So both the sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee were devoted to liberty.

“and release to those who are bound” (v. 1f). This would speak loudly to these Jewish people who have so recently been freed from their long exile and allowed to return to Jerusalem.

“to proclaim (liq·ro) the year of Yahweh’s favor” (v. 2a). “The year of Yahweh’s favor” once again brings to mind the Year of Jubilee—a year devoted to liberty.

The servant/messiah is to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor—the year when those being favored can expect to receive blessings from God.

“and the day of vengeance of our God” (v. 2b). The word “vengeance” is jarring in this context, because each of the other phrases is positive. These verses speak of bringing good news to the oppressed and binding up the brokenhearted and proclaiming liberty to the captives.

But the Babylonians had to suffer decline if the Israelites were to be freed. The forces of evil have to suffer defeat if the forces of good are to win. It is in this sense that God brings vengeance upon those who oppose him.

“to comfort all who mourn” (v. 2c). As noted above, the servant/messiah will remove the cause of mourning—will give the grieving person reason to hope once again.

“I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh (yhwh), my soul shall be joyful in my God” (v. 10a). The voice in verses 8-9 has been that of Yahweh, but now the voice of this verse speaks of Yahweh in the third person, indicating that this is a new voice—but whose voice. Is it the voice of the servant messiah, who was the voice in verses 1-7, or is it the voice of Zion (v. 3)—the one whom the Lord will bless? While we can’t answer this with certainty, it seems most likely that the speaker is Zion—Israel—the people of God—those whom God will bless. They will rejoice in their relationship with Yahweh, who will prove both faithful and generous.

“for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland (pe’er headdress, turban, laurel wreath), and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (v. 10b). The picture here is of a wedding party, dressed in beautiful wedding garments and adorned with jewels. If you have ever attended a wedding, you know that garments and adornments such as these have the power to transform the appearance of otherwise ordinary looking men and women. The groom and his attendants, who yesterday would not have turned any heads, now look handsome. The bride and her attendants, who yesterday looked equally ordinary, take on a new beauty.

In this instance, the garments that promise to bestow such beauty on Zion are the garments of salvation and the robes of righteousness. These are the gifts of God—unavailable for purchase by even the wealthiest person. They convey a beauty that can be had only through a relationship with God.

“For as the earth brings forth its bud, and as a garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth” (v. 11a). Even those of us who have many times witnessed the miracle of springtime stop to marvel at the loveliness of leaves as they begin to bring color back to the trees—and flowers as they begin to emerge from the ground. Our hearts are gladdened as tomatoes and beans and wheat and corn first appear—giving only a hint of the full measure of the mature plant and the fruit that it will bear—fruit that will sustain us through the coming year. It is a joyous season.

“so the Lord Yahweh (yhwh ado·nai) will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (v. 11b). In just such spring-like manner, God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up in Zion in the presence of the nations. Zion’s loveliness and the miracle of her emerging righteousness and praise will bear witness to the nations of Yahweh’s faithfulness.

Exegesis Outline

First Reading Exegesis

Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

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Agape Bible Study

Rejoice in God’s glad tidings

Divine anointings

In this passage, the prophet Isaiah delivers an oracle about a future messenger who is God’s “anointed” (“messiah”), coming to proclaim a year of divine favor (verses 1-2). A divine “anointing” was an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon an individual called to serve as His agent to the covenant people. God will anoint this future Messiah to fulfill a dual mission as both a messenger and a comforter. As God’s divine messenger, he brings “glad tidings” like a king’s ambassador in announcing victory over an enemy in a time of war and the redemption and release of prisoners. His message also proclaims a new world order where there will no longer be any oppression and where accord and well-being will prevail for people of all nations.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
A year of favor from the Lord

The “year of favor from the LORD [Yahweh]” in verse 2 recalls God’s command for Israel to keep a “Sabbath year” every seventh year and a “Jubilee year” every fiftieth year (Ex 21:2-11; Lev 25:8-19; Jer 34:14; Ez 46:17).  These were years when the Israelites were to extend forgiveness to their fellow Israelites in the same way God showed them His forgiveness and mercy.  God commanded them to forgive debts, free Israelite slaves, and return any sold land to its original tribal family in a Jubilee year.  The divine year of grace will offer a similar deliverance from oppression and forgiveness in the oracle but not only to Israelites.

Notice in verse 2 that this day of God’s favor is also a “day of vindication” because both the righteous and the wicked will receive justice.  God’s messenger/messiah is more than an ordinary prophet because he is one who possesses the fullness of God’s Spirit in himself to deliver God’s blessings to Israel and all humanity.  The prophet compares the joy of receiving God’s gift of deliverance to a bridegroom’s delight in his bride and a farmer’s joy in reaping a rich harvest (verses 10b-11).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Jesus reads this prophecy in Nazareth

When Jesus visited His hometown of Nazareth on the Sabbath in the Gospel of Luke, He chose to read this prophecy from the scroll of Isaiah: He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:17-19; quoting LXX Is 61:1-2).  Then, Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.  He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  In making this announcement, Jesus proclaimed Himself God’s anointed messenger, the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah.  The “glad tidings” He brings is the “good news” (Gospel) of His Kingdom (Mt 5:17; Mk 1:15), and the liberation He promises is freeing humanity from bondage to sin and the captivity of death.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.

Responsorial Psalm

3B Advent

commentary
Detail from a 1503 painting of Mary's visitation to Elizabeth by Mariotto Albertinelli (1474-1515) from the Sant'Elisabetta della congrega dei Preti chapel in Florence's church of San Michele alle Trombe - Wikipedia

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: — Lk 1:46

PHOTO CONNECTION
Detail from a 1503 painting of Mary's visitation to Elizabeth by Mariotto Albertinelli (1474-1515) from the Sant'Elisabetta della congrega dei Preti chapel in Florence's church of San Michele alle Trombe - Wikipedia

My soul rejoices in my God

The Psalm is taken from Mary’s Magnificat. Mary’s joy at God’s goodness to her echoes the joy of Jerusalem and points to the joy of all who will open their hearts to Christ.

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

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FOCAL THEMES

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Life Recovery Bible

God’s ways are not our ways

Luke 1:51-55 These words from Mary’s song present God’s priorities in stark contrast to the way our world thinks. When life seems unfair and does not turn out the way we might have chosen, it is important to realize that God’s ways are not our ways. Personal fulfillment and genuine recovery do not come through human greatness and success, but through repentance and sincere humility. The most important relationships in life are not with the rich and famous but often with the lowly, the needy, and those in recovery.

SOURCE: Content taken from Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition. Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Agape Bible Study

Rejoice in God’s mighty works

Intro to Mary's Magnificat

Today’s responsorial psalm is from the Virgin Mary’s beautiful canticle of praise, which we call “the Magnificat.”  Mary’s hymn is in response to her kinswoman Elizabeth’s exclamation of praise for Mary’s belief in God and the honor God has shown her as “the mother of the Lord” in Luke 1:45.  Some scholars have concluded that Mary’s Magnificat, like the Benedictus of Zechariah (Lk 1:68-79), was an early Aramaic Jewish-Christian hymn, predating Luke’s Gospel.  Other scholars disagree, citing the numerous references to the Greek Septuagint Old Testament passages within the two chants (Fr. Raymond Brown, The Birth of Jesus, pages 350-55 and the opposing view from Fr. Raymond Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, page 361).  One test to support the second theory is how easily the Greek translates into Hebrew or Aramaic.

Mary’s hymn of praise divides into three parts, two of which are in our reading:

  1. She praises God for what He has done for her (verses 46b-49).
  2. She praises God’s mercy to the poor and disadvantaged (verses 50-53).
  3. She praises God’s faithfulness to Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel (verses 54-55).
Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
What God has done for Mary

46 And Mary said:“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; 47 my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…

Mary begins by calling God her Savior.  The word “Lord,” Kyrios in Greek, is understood to be a substitute for God’s Holy Name, Yahweh.  Kyrios appears consistently in the Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation to replace the divine Name, YHWH.  God is the source of Mary’s blessing and her salvation.  The expression “rejoices in God my Savior” is an echo of the hymn of praise of another holy woman blessed with a child by God’s intervention in the prophet Samuel’s mother Hannah’s hymn of praise in 1 Samuel 2:1.

In verse 48, Mary says, 48 for he has looked upon his lowly servant.  From this day all generations shall call me blessed

The NJB, which is closer to the original Greek translation, has “he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant,” an echo of Habakkuk 3:18.  Her humble station is the first reason for Mary’s praise.  She declares that because of God’s divine plan for her life and her willingness to submit to that plan, all generations will pronounce a beatitude over her.  The verb makariousin, in the future tense, reflects the adjective makaria that Elizabeth used in verse 45 (Fr. Fitzmyer, The Gospel of Luke, page 367).

Mary utters the prophecy of future generations and her relationship to them prompted by the Holy Spirit.  The prophecy, spoken by Mary under the Holy Spirit’s influence, requires action on the part of Christians.  Since we are to live in imitation of Christ, we must honor Mary just as her Son honored her according to God’s Law (Ex 20:12; Lev 19:3; Dt 5:16).  To honor one’s parents is the only one of the Ten Commandments that carries a promised blessing.When Jesus gave Mary into the care of the beloved disciple as his mother at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:26-27), she became the mother of every beloved disciple of Christ Jesus (also see Rev 12:17).

49 the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.  50 He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

Verse 49 is the second reason for Mary’s praise.  She uses the same title for God found in the “daughter of Zion” passage in Zephaniah 3:17 (LXX) and Psalms 89:9 (LXX).  Notice in verses 49-50 that Mary names three attributes of God:His might, holiness, and mercy.  That God “has done great things” for her is an echo of Deuteronomy 10:21 in which Yahweh promises the children of Israel He will do “great things.” These are great saving acts for the covenant people of every generation if they remain loyal, obedient, and reverently fear offending God.  Mary acknowledges the promise God fulfilled for her personally by making her the mother of the Redeemer-Messiah.  It is a “great thing” that will not only bring about her salvation but the salvation of her people and all future generations who accept Jesus as their Savior (also see Dt 11:7 and Judg 2:7).

and holy is his Name.  50 He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

“Holy is his name” or “His name is holy” refers to God’s divine Name YHWH (translated with vowels, Yahweh).  It is an echo of Psalms 119:9, while “His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him” echoes Psalms 103:17.  The ancients believed that a name expressed the very essence of a person, or in this case of God who is the great “I AM” and about which God told Moses, “This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations” (see Ex 3:15).  The first person to use the Divine Name was the first woman, Eve, in Genesis 4:1.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
God's mercy to the poor and disadvantaged

When Mary speaks of “fear of the Lord” in verse 50, an attitude God repeatedly urges in Scripture (i.e., Ex 18:21; Lev 25:17, 36, 43; Dt 6:13, 24; 8:6; 10:12, 20), she uses a phrase repeated almost verbatim from Ps 103:17.  She is not speaking of servile fear but reverence toward God in recognizing His sovereignty and fear of offending Him.  These are the positive aspects of keeping on the path to righteousness, which leads to salvation.  Mary’s hymn begins in praise for what God has done for her and expands to what God has done for her people.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

The wealthy are the arrogant of mind and heart and the enemies of the poor and humble.  Therefore, they are the enemies of God (see Is 2:12, 17; 4:15; 13:11; Wis 3:10-11; etc.).  Mary is speaking of the promise of God’s ultimate justice for those who have suffered and those who have caused the suffering.  She includes a quote from Psalms 107:9 ~ For he satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things.  In His divine justice, God will judge men and women according to their works (Mt 25:31-46; Lk 6:20-25).  The rich who misuse the use of their material gifts/blessings will experience a reversal of fortune in that they will be “sent away empty.”

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
God's faithfulness

4 He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy.

Mary’s concluding statement contains echoes of the promises of Isaiah 41:8-9 from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (the standard translation in Mary’s time) as well as Psalms 98:3 and Micah 7:20.

Mary understands her destiny is to give birth to the Redeemer-Messiah, the legitimate heir of King David prophesied to be born of a virgin (Is 7:14; Mt 1:22-23; Lk 1:32).  Her Son will not only fulfill the promise of the Davidic covenant that the throne of David’s kingdom will endure forever in a Davidic heir (2 Sam 7:11b-16; 23:5; 2 Chr 13:5; Ps 89:3-4, 28-29; Sir 45:25; 47:11/13), but He will also fulfill the three-fold covenant made to Abraham.  One of those promises was of a world-wide blessing (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14).  Her divine Son will fulfill God’s covenant promises and His vow not to abandon His covenant people.  All those promised blessings will be fulfilled in Christ Jesus, son of David, son of Mary, and Son of God, as St. Paul declares (Gal 3:8-9, 25-29).

Mary’s beautiful hymn of praise illuminates her humility and faith; this is, of course, the way God created her.  In Catechism citation 722, the Church teaches: “The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by his grace.  It was fitting that the mother of him in whom ‘the whole fullness of deity dwells, bodily, should herself be full of grace.’  She was, by sheer grace, conceived without sin as the most humble of creatures, the most capable of welcoming the inexpressible gift of the Almighty.  It was quite correct for the angel Gabriel to greet her as ‘Daughter of Zion: Rejoice.’  It is the thanksgiving of the whole People of God, and thus of the Church, which Mary in her canticle lifts up to the Father in the Holy Spirit while carrying within her the eternal Son.”

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.

Second Reading

3B Advent

commentary
Nashville Dominican Sisters of the Saint Cecilia Congregation stand next to a statue of their founder, St. Dominic.
RELATED: In the year 1221, Saint Dominic founded a religious order dedicated to preaching and the salvation of souls. In that tradition, the order of the Dominican Sisters of the Saint Cecilia Congregation was established in 1860 in Nashville, Tennessee. The sisters seek to live within the heart of the Church with a commitment to prayer, community life, visible witness, and a Dominican love of study. They teach students from pre-school to college in more than 30 schools in 18 dioceses, as well as in Australia, Canada, Scotland, Italy and the Netherlands. The sisters have a median age of 36. During the past ten years, more than 100 sisters have entered the congregation, enabling the Dominican sisters to accept 12 new schools across the United States. A spirit of joy and fidelity to the Church marks their way of life. To learn more about the Nashville Dominicans, please click here.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

PHOTO CONNECTION
Nashville Dominican Sisters of the Saint Cecilia Congregation stand next to a statue of their founder, St. Dominic.
RELATED: In the year 1221, Saint Dominic founded a religious order dedicated to preaching and the salvation of souls. In that tradition, the order of the Dominican Sisters of the Saint Cecilia Congregation was established in 1860 in Nashville, Tennessee. The sisters seek to live within the heart of the Church with a commitment to prayer, community life, visible witness, and a Dominican love of study. They teach students from pre-school to college in more than 30 schools in 18 dioceses, as well as in Australia, Canada, Scotland, Italy and the Netherlands. The sisters have a median age of 36. During the past ten years, more than 100 sisters have entered the congregation, enabling the Dominican sisters to accept 12 new schools across the United States. A spirit of joy and fidelity to the Church marks their way of life. To learn more about the Nashville Dominicans, please click here.

Do not stifle the Spirit

  • At the end of the First Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives a series of directions to the faithful.
  • Paul advises the Thessalonians to pray and give thanks without ceasing.
  • The community is instructed to test everything and encourage that which is good.
SOURCE: Our Sunday Visitor

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REFLECTIONS

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Fr. Clement Thibodeau

Believers must be faithful

SECOND READING—Early Christians worried that the Lord might come and worried that he might not come! If he comes, who will survive? Paul says that strong and loving community life can provide support in the expectation of the Second Coming. Speculation and anxiety about the Coming are of no benefit. Spirit, soul,and body do not refer to different components of the person, as if theywere separable from oneanother. The expression means the whole person in all its dimensions. Of all the books of the Christian testament, this was the very first to be written, around the year 50-51. It reflects some of the earliest concerns among the followers of Christ.

© 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.

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Fr. Eamon Tobin

Joy

SECOND READING—Paul concludes this letter to the people of Thessalonica with a note of joy. Just as they accept God’s Word with joy (which is one of the fruits of the Spirit), so must their lives continue to be marked by joy even in the midst of their afflictions. Paul emphasizes the importance of a grateful heart and openness to the Holy Spirit (“Do not quench theSpirit.”). But they should not embrace every new fad (“Test everything; retain what is good.”). Paul concludes with a prayer for his people: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy.”

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

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Sr. Mary McGlone

Three commands about how to live

SECOND READING—Paul is winding down his letter to the Thessalonians. Like someone about to stand up and leave, he’s giving his final instructions. Paul leaves his community three commands about how to live. He’s not giving them moral instruction, but telling them what kind of an interior spirit they can have and develop because they know Christ. If they develop this spirit, morality will be a side issue, not unimportant, but subsumed in an integrated approach to life instead of a consideration of individual acts.

Anyone who thinks of Paul as a dour rule-giver has never meditated on this reading. Paul’s first injunction is “Rejoice always.” Paul says “always.” That indicates that rejoicing is not a mood or a fiesta activity, it’s not a prayer after communion, but an attitude. We can’t engender our own rejoicing, but we can cultivate it. Joy is not the same as pleasure. Pleasure is a fleeting sensation of liking something that generally “pleases” us. Pleasure is rooted in our senses: We can relish or appreciate what we hear, taste, smell, see or touch. Joy is a state of the soul. Joy is deeper than happiness or contentment. Happiness is always vulnerable to sorrow, loss, even pain. Contentment speaks of satisfaction with what is. Joy can coexist with sorrow and discontent. (Think of Pope Francis who exudes joy while he can express profound sadness about the hatred and violence he sees in the world around him.)

The joy of which Paul speaks is a fruit of faith in Christ and God’s great love. Joy is an attitude that knows that no matter the circumstances of the moment, God’s love is the one constant. If we want to think about joy, we might think about the way the Gospel of John presents Jesus’ understanding of the events of his passion. Jesus speaks of his cross as “being lifted up,” of death as the fullness of his vocation (12:32-33). What carried Jesus through the horror of those events was his inner awareness of God’s faithfulness and profound delight in knowing God’s love. That’s what engenders the sort of joy Paul is talking about. We can “rejoice always” to the extent that we are aware of the power of God’s love to give meaning to everything in our life.

Paul’s other two injunctions are integral parts of the attitude of joy he has called the community to develop. He says, “Pray without ceasing.” Obviously, he’s not calling the entire community to the lifestyle of the Carmelites or even the Benedictines; we know that Paul didn’t walk the road fingering a rosary. Praying always speaks of an attitude more than an activity. Ignatius of Loyola might refer to it as living a discerning life, always being aware of God’s presence and our response. Finally, Paul says, “In all circumstances, give thanks.” This, too, is an attitude as much as an activity. It is a call to develop an appreciation of everything that is, to discover the beauty in all that surrounds us. Going full circle, that sort of an approach to life cannot help but engender joy.

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone  is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

TIPS FOR READERS

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Paul J. Schlachter

Paul’s thoughts

The apostle is closing his early letter to a young church, a more timid church than the one portrayed in Corinthians, a church needing encouragement and fervor.  Do not quench the SpiritTest everything

I will consider what parts of this message apply to my own church, then prepare to deliver it to them accordingly.  If they are to overhear certain comments, I will be subdued.  If the words are for them, too, I will make sure they hear. 

Here are some words that definitely apply to all churches.  Rejoice always, a very appropriate exhortation for the mid-point of Advent.  In all circumstances give thanks, just as we are doing around the altar table.  May the God of peace make you perfectly holy, attuned to the wavelength of Jesus, and ready to recognize the Lord when he comes.

Key elements

The message for our assembly: Our own careful plans for our lives pale in comparison with the life coming to us from the one who calls you.  We may forget it if we don’t say it often enough, or if readers like myself lack conviction when we repeat it in the liturgy.

Central theme: The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ for which we are to behave in a blameless way.

I will challenge myself: To make these appeals to greatness, that could turn into platitudes if I am not well prepared, into a plausible way of life for my listeners – indeed, the only real alternative for them!

SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at  LectorWorks.org
Greg Warnusz

Introduction for listeners

This is the concluding summary of a letter from Paul to an early community that he loved well. He writes in a hasty way, packing only the most important closing thoughts into these last paragraphs.

Oral Interpretation

The Historical Situation:Paul was fond of the Thessalonians, who had received his gospel enthusiastically. Their example had helped others embrace the faith, too. But they were not above the need for moral instruction. This Paul gives them in the latter half of the letter (a literary pattern Paul would use in later letters, too). That instruction is what Paul is wrapping up here, then he slides into affectionate farewell verses. The writer and the readers knew that God had done great things among them, and they expected more, even expecting the imminent return of Jesus in glory. So the level of excitement was high.

Proclaiming It: Paul writes choppy short sentences, as if he knows he’s almost out of ink, or as if the courier is going to leave momentarily, whether or not the letter is finished. To avoid making the first short sentences sound monotonous, vary your pitch with each verse, pausing slightly between them.

Pause before verse 23, “May the God of peace make you perfect …,” and take a breath. This is the conclusion of the letter. Speak as the Apostle would: You love these people and you want for them the best that your generous God can offer. (That would be a good way to pray privately for your listeners before you even begin the proclamation.)

SOURCE: Greg Warnusz at  LectorPrep.org

FOCAL THEMES

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Theology of Work Commentary

Intro to First Thessalonians

SECOND READING—“We work hard, so you don’t have to.” That’s the advertising line for a modern bathroom cleaner,[1] but—with a little adjustment—it might have fit well as a slogan for some Christians in the ancient city of Thessalonica. “Jesus worked hard so I don’t have to.” Many believed the new way of living offered by Jesus was cause to abandon the old way of living that involved hard work, and so they became idle. As we will see, it is difficult to know exactly why some Thessalonians were not work­ing. Perhaps they mistakenly thought that the promise of eternal life meant that this life no longer mattered. But these idlers were living off the largesse of the more responsible members of the church. They were consuming the resources intended to meet the needs of those genuinely unable to support themselves. And they were becoming troublesome and argumentative.

In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul would have none of this. He made it clear that Christians need to keep at their labors, for the way of Christ is not idleness but service and excellence in work.

SOURCE: © 2014 Theology of Work Project, Inc.; Used with permission. (Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.)
Life Recovery Bible

God gives us what we need

5:14-28 Paul leaves us with his final good advice. If we follow these instructions with God’s help, we will be well on our way in the recovery process. We are called to minister to others, a part of recovery that gives hope to others and reinforces our own success. Paul tells us to rebuild our relationships by repaying the wrongs of others with kindness. We are called to live a joyful life, always prayerful, continually seeking God’s will. We are reminded of the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s continual helping presence in our life. God gives us what we need to succeed in recovery. Our part is to participate in the good plan he has set out for us.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Life Recovery Bible notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Sermon Writer

In everything give thanks

In everything give thanks

Rejoice (Greek: chairete) always (v. 16; see also Philippians 4:4). The Greek word, chairete (from the root word, chairo), is a common greeting, and means “Rejoice!”

Joy and rejoicing are common themes throughout both Old and New Testaments. The feasts which the Israelites were required to observe celebrated the great events of their history (i.e., the Passover feast celebrated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt), and were to be times of rejoicing (Numbers 10:10). A man could rejoice in the wife of his youth (Proverbs 5:18)—or for the prospect of salvation (Psalm 51:12). Women sang songs of joy when David returned from a victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:6-7). The people could rejoice at the prospect of Yahweh breaking the rod of their oppressor (Isaiah 9:3).

In the New Testament, we first encountered this word chairo in the announcement to Mary that she would have a baby (Luke 1:14)—and in Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s visit (Luke 1:44). In her Magnificat, Mary uses another word for “rejoice” (agalliao)—but it conveys the same enthusiasm (Luke 1:47). The Magi, seeing the star stop above the house where Mary was taking care of the baby Jesus, “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (Matthew 2:10). From the beginning of Jesus’ life to his resurrection appearances (Matthew 28:8; Luke 24:41, 52), rejoicing was an important response.

We can certainly understand the call to rejoice, but Paul’s call to rejoice always causes us pause. Can we rejoice when we’re sick—or in prison—or bereaved? Can we rejoice when we have just lost our job and don’t know where to turn?

Paul demonstrated that it is, indeed, possible to rejoice in the midst of adversity. Early in his ministry, when arrested, he and Silas sang hymns and prayed in their prison cell (Acts 16:25). Later, in prison awaiting trial, he wrote a short letter to the church at Philippi in which he used the word “joy” or “rejoice” no less than a dozen times (Philippians 1:4, 18, 25; 2:2, 17-18, 28-29; 3:1; 4:1, 4, 10). In some of those verses, he is urging the Philippians to rejoice, but in others he is talking about his own joy. He mentions thanking God “whenever I remember you, always in every request of mine on behalf of you all making my requests with joy” (1:3-4). He talks about proclaiming Christ, and says, “I rejoice in this, yes, and will rejoice” (1:18). He asks the Philippians to “make (his) joy full, by being like-minded” (2:2). He knows that there is a possibility that he will be found guilty and executed—but he responds, “Yes, and if I am poured out on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice, and rejoice with you all. In the same way, you also rejoice, and rejoice with me” (2:17-18).

Now he calls on these Thessalonian Christians to rejoice too—to rejoice always.

Pray (Greek: proseuchesthe) without ceasing (Greek: adialeiptos) (v. 17). The New Testament has four words for prayer:

Deesis has to do with asking God to supply particular needs.
Enteuxeis is supplication—prayers for others or for oneself.
Eucharistias is thanksgiving.
• The word used here,proseuchesthe, is a general word for prayer that would include all kinds of prayer.

Prayer assumes that a relationship exists between the person and God so that the person can believe that God is listening and that God will take seriously the person’s petitions. That doesn’t mean that God will always answer prayers as we ask. However, the more closely our hearts are aligned with God’s will, the more likely we will receive what we asked.

Paul’s requirement for constant prayer causes us problems. We have no problem with praying, but how can we pray without ceasing. Life places many demands on us, and we cannot spend every moment in prayer.

But we can live every moment in the confidence that we are connected to God’s love. We can look to God for guidance when we need to make a decision. If we have eyes to see, we can find a thousand things for which to give thanks. Even a cursory reading of a newspaper will tell us of situations around the world that need God’s intervention. There are any number of people deserving of our supplications—our family and friends, the church and its’ members, church leaders, governmental leaders, the person standing in line with us at the supermarket, and the clerk who takes our order at Burger King.

I once read of a young woman whose work made it impossible for her to attend church services regularly. However, she made it a point to read the obituaries in the local paper and to pray for the families of those who had died. She read about births, and prayed for the mothers and babies. She read about weddings, and prayed for the couples.

There is no lack of subject matter for our prayers. While we cannot devote every minute of every day to prayer, we can live in such a way that our lives honor God—and we can live in thanksgiving for all the blessings that we have received, great and small—and we can offer prayers for people we pass on the street. The possibilities are endless.

And so Paul says, “Pray constantly!”

In everything give thanks (v. 18a). Many years ago, someone gave me a copy of Merlin Carothers’ book, Prison to Praise. It’s a small book—smaller than a copy of Reader’s Digest, but it has stuck with me all these years. I mention it because Carothers talks about reading “in everything give thanks” while in prison and tells how this verse changed his life.

Carothers decided to take God at his word. If God called him to give thanks in all circumstances, Carothers would do that. Even though he was still in prison, he would give thanks. He would not give thanks for the troubles that his eyes could see, but would give thanks for the confidence that God would use those troubles in a positive way.

When he began giving thanks, God began to do wonderful things in his life. Doors that had been closed began to open wide, including the door of his cell. Carothers was released early.

One miraculous door led to another, and Carothers found himself in the ministry. He taught other people about thanksgiving in all circumstances, and they too began to experience miracles in their lives.

That book was first published in 1970 and has sold millions of copies. It is still in print. They carry it at Amazon at very reasonable cost. Get a copy. It will help you to understand the power of this verse properly applied.

Corrie ten Boom also tells a wonderful story about this verse. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, were prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. The camp was horrible. Fleas nearly drove them crazy. Fleas were everywhere. Fleas got in their hair and under their skin. Fleas made it impossible to sleep. Corrie and Betsy had no soap or flea power. The fleas swarmed unchecked. It was terrible.

Betsy mentioned this verse, “in everything give thanks.” Corrie said, “I can’t give thanks for the fleas.” Betsy said, “Give thanks that we’re together. Give thanks that they didn’t check our belongings, and we have our Bible.” So Corrie agreed to give thanks for her sister and for their Bible. They didn’t give thanks for the fleas, but they did give thanks while living a flea-bitten existence.

Much later, Corrie discovered that the fleas had been a blessing in disguise. She learned that the guards often raped women prisoners. But the guards never touched the women in Corrie’s section of the camp, because they didn’t want to expose themselves to the fleas. Corrie said that this taught her to give thanks for all things—because you never know.

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you (v. 18b). The “this” in this verse incorporates all three commands: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” These commands are not the product of human wisdom, but come from God. It is God’s will that these Christians obey these three commands. It is part of God’s plan for their lives.

Exegesis Outline

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Agape Bible Study

The Christian’s reason to rejoice

Paul's plan for a fulfilled life

16 Rejoice always.  17 Pray without ceasing.  18 In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  19 Do not quench the Spirit.  20 Do not despise prophetic utterances.

St. Paul explains how Christians should conduct themselves while waiting for the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this season of the year, it is not only sound advice concerning waiting for Jesus’ promised return, but it is good advice for all of us who are making ourselves ready for the Christ-mass event that celebrates the birth of the Redeemer-Messiah.

In verses 16-19, St. Paul gives us the plan for a fulfilled Christian life: be filled with joy, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances, even while suffering. When a Christian allows events that cause sadness to overwhelm him, he demonstrates a lack of faith and trust in God’s plan for his life. We can offer every aspect of our lives, even suffering, to God for our good and the good of others when we pray in accord with God’s will for our lives and do not “quench the Spirit” (verse 19) by fighting against God’s plan.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Test everything...

20 Do not despise prophetic utterances.  21 Test everything; retain what is good.  22 Refrain from every kind of evil.

The Holy Spirit grants the charism of the gift of prophecy.  New Testament prophets were Christians whom God gave special graces to instruct, encourage, console, and correct the faithful.  However, Paul warns not to simply accept someone who claims to have spiritual gifts without discerning the quality of their words and works.  If you take the time to test what you hear or read against Christ’s teachings and His Church, you will not be misled into evil by a false teacher who teaches contrary to the wisdom of the Church (verse 21).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
Three aspects of a well ordered person

23 May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.

St. Paul prays for the continuing sanctification of the community at Thessalonica.  He speaks of the three aspects that compose a well-ordered person: “spirit, soul, and body” (verse 23).  The “body” is our temporal, material self that decays at death.  The “soul” refers to the spiritually immortal part of a person that animates the body.  God creates each soul individually and infuses it into the body at the time of conception.  Separation from its body only occurs in physical death.  Since the soul was created for a particular body, it is incomplete without its body.  This incompleteness of a soul without a body is the reason our bodies and souls will be reunited in Jesus’ Second Advent in the great Resurrection of the dead.

The “spirit” St. Paul refers to is the gift of the infusion of the life of God that we receive in Christian baptism.  It is the “spirit” of God dwelling in us that makes us children in the family of God, and unlike non-baptized humans who are still children in the family of Adam.  Since God desires that all humanity comes to salvation, a perfectly ordered person in this earthly life must possess all three: spirit, soul, and body in a state of grace while waiting for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 23).  God, “the one who calls” us, “is faithful,” and we can have confidence that “He will accomplish”/will bring about the return of the Christ as has been promised (verse 24).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.

Gospel Reading

3B Advent

commentary
4th century mosaic of a cock, representing light, which fights against a turtle, representing darkness; located in Basilica di Aquileia (Aquileia, Italy)

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. — John 1:6

PHOTO CONNECTION
4th century mosaic of a cock, representing light, which fights against a turtle, representing darkness; located in Basilica di Aquileia (Aquileia, Italy)

Prepare the way of the Lord!

  • John’s Gospel uses words from Isaiah 40 to identify John the Baptist as the one who prepares the way for the new exodus and return from exile.
  • The priests and Levites ask, “Why then do you baptize?” Baptism was a form of initiation for Gentle converts to Judaism.
  • John uses this opportunity to bear witness to the one who will come, who will baptize not in water but in the Spirit.
SOURCE: Our Sunday Visitor

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REFLECTIONS

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Fr. Clement Thibodeau

The Baptist brings light into the darkness

GOSPEL—Surprise! John’s Gospel is used instead of Mark for the Third Sunday in Advent since John provides a fuller picture of the ministry of John the Baptist as preparing for the coming of Christ. The Church finds a more complete source wherever possible to emphasize the work of the Baptist as the Coming approaches. There were some disciples of John who had not followed his advice as he pointed to the One Who Was To Come.

They were still looking for John to come back from the dead. Early Christians had to reach out to thesewho were still preaching the repentance called for by John but were not centered on Jesus as the Christ.

John’s Gospel always has harsh words for the Jews. This refers not to the Jewish people in general but to the leaders in Judea who refused to hearthe message of Jesus. We must be careful not to apply the harshness of this passage to all Jewish people in general. Both Jesus and John were laymen, as it were, in Judaism. They were not priests of the Temple. They did not seek badges of honor. They simply proclaimed, “The love of God is the only asset worth anything at all.” Being loved by God gives us our value, not the positions we hold in the Church or in society.

John claims that the right to baptize has come to him from God who has sent him and not from any certification at the hands of religious leaders. He is not the Christ; he is not Elijah; he is not the Prophet. He is simply one sent by God to point to the Christ who is to come. This Gospel wants its hearers to know that they too get their authenticitynot from established religious structures but from the God whose message they bear.

The right to ministry for members of the Church today does not come first from any decree of the Church granting it any inner authenticity. Its inner authority comes from the power of the Holy Spirit received in baptism and developed in prayer and in service. The Church can only direct the ministries of its members; it does not create them nor grant them out of its own resources. The call and the gift of ministry come from God. The Church has a right and duty to test, to verify, and to organize the gifts of the faithful. God empowers; the Church guides and directs.

© 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.

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Fr. Eamon Tobin

John the Baptist: A witness to the Light

GOSPEL—Last Sunday, Luke introduced us to John the Baptist. This Sunday, John the Evangelist contrasts the role of John the Baptist with the mission of Jesus. John the Evangelist is writing to a community, some of whom still believe that John the Baptist is the Messiah.

John the Evangelist wants his people to be very clear that John the Baptist’s ministry is temporary and subordinate to that of Christ’s. John is a witness to the Light. Jesus is the Light. Three times John says: “I am not the Light.” When asked who he is, John replies: “I am a voice pointing people to Jesus who is the Light.”

The “Jerusalem Jews” (some Pharisees who came in delegations to question Jesus) are the ones who constantly prefer the darkness to the light. They do not recognize Christ in their midst

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. Used with permission.

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Sr. Mary McGlone

The bridge from the eternal Word to the incarnate Word

GOSPEL— Today’s selection from the preface of the Gospel of John focuses on John the Baptist as the bridge from the eternal Word to the incarnate Word (1:1). In the plan of the Gospel writer, the beginning of the reading focuses on human history and God rather than on John (1:6-8). John is simply a witness, a testifier.

When the text says that John was sent from God, the word for sent is the root from which we get the word apostle. Thus, in the Gospel of John, the Baptist is the first apostle of the Christian Scriptures, the first one sent by God to testify to the light of Christ.

With the exception of Luke, the evangelists tell us nothing of John’s background, and the purpose of Luke’s information about Zachary and Elizabeth and John is designed much more to situate John in relation to Jesus than to give us genealogical facts. For all of the evangelists, the point is that John, the well-known and immensely popular prophet-martyr, was not equal to Jesus. They can’t tell the Gospel story without John, but they avoid letting him become the center of it.

The Gospel of John portrays John the Baptist as a person who knows very well who he is. Although the way the priests and Levites began to interrogate him may look like they are talking to a crazy person, John the Evangelist paints the scene to show that the only one in the scene who really knows himself is John the Baptist.

John the Evangelist makes a subtle comparison between John and his cross-examiners. He introduces the Baptist by saying he was sent by God. Then he says that the questioners and the Pharisees were also sent, but they were sent by the Jews from Jerusalem, the Levites and priests. That little fact asks each reader to face a crucial question: “Whose work are you doing?” It also leads to the difficult questions of human freedom: Life can seem very clear when somebody with “authority” tells us what to do; recognizing the will of God is riskier.

As is typical in John’s Gospel, the story can be as deep as we are willing to allow it to be. On one level this presentation of John the Baptist presents the historical prophet as a man uniquely aware of who he was as a person called by God, not the Messiah. When we take it further, it invites us into the questions John had to answer for himself. How did God’s spirit burn within him? For what had he been sent? And ultimately, how much was he willing to risk in carrying out his vocation? All of those implications came into play with the simple question the Jerusalem delegates put to John: “Who are you?”

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her 2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.

TIPS FOR READERS

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Paul J. Schlachter

Paul’s thoughts:

Last week I listened to the report about John and his innovative ministry along the Jordan.  Today comes the testimony of John, and the confrontation begins.  Priests and levites sent to him to ask him, Who are you?

The animosity of the priestly institution toward this frontier visionary comes out here more than in any other Gospel.  What are you then?  What do you have to say for yourself?  We live in an era in which credentials, certifications and authorizations count for everything, outweighing and denying the efficacy of spiritual gifts.  I’ll have no trouble imitating the officious voice of these emissaries.

I have met some giants of humanity in my life.  They are all driven by the cause of justice or peace, but they are not self-deluded: I am not the Christ, no, no.  All of them were self-assured, but unassuming about this and welcoming to me.  They let their actions speak for themselves.  I am the voiceI baptize with water.  If they are followers of Jesus they reveal their admiration for him: One is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.  In my voice John will sound like such a person.

We celebrate this Gospel during Advent because it looks forward to Christ.  There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.  It reminds me of the times when Christ appears among us and we do not recognize him.  We look for signs, for comfortable images to bolster our flagging faith, and all the while the humble of the earth are passing us on every city block.  Advent is about listening more discerningly.  How can I help my listeners reach this point as a church faithful to the Lord?

Key elements

Central theme: John is not vindicated by his credentials but by his fulfillment of the prophecy, to make straight the way of the Lord

Message for our assembly: John has made the right response to God’s call.  We must be open enough to the call to stand with John, who came to testify to the light so that all might believe.

I will challenge myself: To keep this passage from becoming a historical curiosity, by giving a sense of the modern-day tension between institutions and the charismatic innovators in their midst.

SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at  LectorWorks.org

FOCAL THEMES

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Theology of Work Commentary

In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1-18)

GOSPEL—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1) The majestic opening of John’s Gospel shows us the limitless scope of the Word’s work. He is the definitive self-expression of God, the one through whom God created all things in the beginning. He stretches out the cosmos as the canvas for the expression of God’s glory.

The Word is working; and because his work began in the beginning, all subsequent human labor is derived from his initial labor. Derived is not too strong a word, because everything people work with was created by him. The work God did in Genesis 1 and 2 was performed by the Word. This may seem too fine a point to press, but many Christians continue to labor under the delusion that the Messiah only began working once things had gone irredeemably wrong, and that his work is restricted to saving (invisible) souls to bring them to (immaterial) heaven. Once we recognize that the Messiah was working materially with God from the beginning, we can reject every creation-denying (and thus work-denigrating) theology.

Therefore we need to correct a common misunderstanding. John’s Gospel is not grounded in a dichotomy of the spiritual versus the material, or the sacred versus the spiritual, or any other dualism. It does not portray salvation as the liberation of the human spirit from the shackles of the material body. Dualistic philosophies such as these are regrettably common among Christians. Their proponents have often turned to the language of the Gospel of John to support their views. It is true that John frequently records Jesus’ use of contrasts such as light/darkness (John 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 11:9-10; 12:35-36), belief/unbelief (John 3:12-18; 4:46-54; 5:46-47; 10:25-30; 12:37-43; 14:10-11; 20:24-39) and spirit/flesh (John 3:6-7). These contrasts highlight the conflict between God’s ways and the ways of evil. But they do not constitute a division of the universe into dual sub-universes. They certainly do not call Jesus’ followers to abandon some sort of “secular” world in order to enter a “spiritual” one. Instead, Jesus employs the contrasts to call his followers to receive and use the power of God’s spirit in the present world. Jesus states this directly in John 3:17, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus came to restore the world to the way God intended it to be, not to lead an exodus out of the world.

If further evidence for God’s ongoing commitment to the creation is needed, we may turn to John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” The incarnation is not the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, but the fulfillment of what the flesh was created for in the beginning. And the flesh is not a temporary base of operations, but the Word’s permanent abode. After his resurrection, Jesus invites Thomas and the others to touch his flesh (John 20:24-31) and later has a breakfast of fish with them (John 21:1-15). At the end of the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to wait “until I return” (John 21:22-23, NIV), not “until I get us all out of here.” A God hostile to, or uninterested in, the material realm would hardly be inclined to take up permanent residence within it. If the world in general is of such immense concern to God, it stands to reason that the work done within that world matters to him as well.

SOURCE: © 2014 Theology of Work Project, Inc.; Used with permission. (Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.)

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Life Recovery Bible

The light of life

1:6-8 The same Power that created the universe is available to create a new life from our shattered hopes. The light of life that exposes and drives away the darkness of the human race is the same light that brightens the dark corners of our world. This source of all life and true light of the world is the source of all recovery. Eternal life and true recovery are ours when we believe what God says, renounce our tendency to do things our way, and receive the one whom God sent to help us.

Pointing the way to recovery

1:19-28 John the Baptist was an original messenger of repentance and recovery. He was not the true light or source of recovery; he merely pointed to the one who was. Likewise, those of us in recovery reflect God’s light and merely point the way to recovery. We should not draw followers to ourself any more than John did. We are mere beggars telling other beggars where to find food. When we lay aside pride in our achievements and abilities as John the Baptist did, we are better able to serve Christ by showing fellow strugglers the way to recovery.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Life Recovery Bible notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

BIBLE STUDY

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Sermon Writer

I am the voice crying in the wilderness

I am the voice crying in the wilderness

“This is John’s testimony” (marturia) (v. 19a)—here we have the “martyr” word once again (see v. 7). John testifies first to who he is and is not (vv. 19-28), and then gives his testimony regarding Jesus—who Jesus is (v. 29-35).

“when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” (v. 19b). This Gospel uses this phrase, “the Jews” more than 70 times. In most cases, the phrase refers to Jesus’ opponents—members of the Jewish religious establishment—Pharisees and priests for the most part (2:18, 20; 5:10, 16, 18; 6:41, etc.). However, not all Jews are opposed to Jesus. John is Jewish (the son of a Jewish priest)—Jesus’ disciples are Jewish—Jesus is Jewish. Jesus says, “Salvation is from the Jews” (4:22). Nor are all Jewish religious leaders Jesus’ enemies! Nicodemus comes to learn from Jesus (3:1 ff.), and Joseph of Arimathea is a secret disciple who will attend to Jesus’ burial (19:38).

Priests and Levites (v. 19b) are religious professionals—men who handle holy objects and conduct holy services. The fact that these priests and Levites are from Jerusalem strikes an ominous note, because Jesus’ opponents are centered in Jerusalem. It is in Jerusalem that he will die.

John “declared and didn’t deny, but he declared, ‘I am not the Christ’” (Christos) (v. 20). The dialogue between John and these men from Jerusalem takes on the flavor of an interrogation. One question follows another, intended to clarify but also to probe for a chink in John’s armor. First and foremost, they ask, “Who are you?” John “declared and didn’t deny it, but declared, ‘I am NOT the Christ’” (v. 20). Declared, did not deny—unusually strong wording. Apparently John is aware of talk that he is the Messiah, and wants to curb rumors before they go any further.

“They asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not’” (v. 21a). Elijah did not die, but was taken up in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), and Jews expect him to return as a forerunner of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5; Mark 8:28; 9:11). John the Baptist dresses like Elijah (Mark 1:6; 2 Kings 1:8), is the forerunner of the Messiah (Mark 1:1-4), and is identified by Jesus as Elijah (Matthew 11:12-14; 17:12; Mark 9:13).

But Jesus will say of John, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come” (Matthew 11:13-14). Jesus understands John’s ministry in a deeper way that John himself. John would never consider equating himself to the great prophet Elijah—but Jesus knows that that is who John is.

“‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No’” (v. 21b). John denies being the prophet promised by Moses—a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18). That prophet is Jesus, and this Gospel will identify him as such (6:14; 7:40).

“Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (v. 22). John was sent by God (1:6). These priests and Levites were sent by the ruling religious authorities in Jerusalem—those who will later be responsible for Jesus’ death.

Feel the frustration here! John is clearly someone special, as the people’s response to him makes evident. The priests and Levites from Jerusalem have a responsibility to monitor religious activities and personages. They have come to investigate John, and have asked the right questions—but John has given them no answers. At this point, they are failing—and floundering—and fearing. How can they return to Jerusalem before they get some answers?

So these religious authorities cast their question more broadly, asking “Who are you?” instead of “Are you the prophet?” They plead, “Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.” Anyone who has been deputized by higher powers to carry out an important mission can appreciate the concern of these mid-level religionists who must soon return to Jerusalem—and to their superiors. “Give us an answer,” they plead.

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said” (v. 23). With John’s answer, we move past what he is not and get to what he is. The quotation is from Isaiah 40:3. In its Isaiah context, the people were captives in Babylonia, and Isaiah’s vision promised a second exodus with an angel carving a straight road through the wilderness to allow the Israelites to return to their Promised Land—a return that God actually made possible, if not necessarily on a superhighway. But God has not sent John to alert people to a road that they will use. God has sent John to call the people to “make straight the way of the Lord.”

What does it mean to “make straight the way of the Lord”? A straight highway is much easier and faster to travel than a route that has lots of hills and twists and turns. A construction worker who helps to build modern highways helps to make it possible for us to reach our destinations quickly and safely. In like manner, those of us who are making “straight the way of the Lord” are doing what we can to facilitate the Lord’s coming into people’s lives and hearts.

Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan
Exegesis Outline

Gospel Exegesis

Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

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Agape Bible Study

St. John the Baptist announces the coming of the Messiah

A messenger sent from God

Notice the choice of words in verse 6: “sent from God.”  The verb “sent” in Greek is apostello.  The verb carries the sense of sending an envoy with a special commission.  It is the verb form of the noun that Jesus used to signify the twelve men He ordained as the spiritual fathers of the New Israel that is His Kingdom of the New Covenant Church: the Apostles (apostolos in Greek).

All of God’s holy prophets sent as God’s messengers before the coming of the Word were not the true Light; they were instead the reflection of the Light to come.  They prepared the world by proclaiming (witnessing to) the coming of the true Light, the Davidic Messiah.  The more literal translation from the Greek text is: “he came for witness [martyria] to bear witness [martyreo].” Martyria (also spelled marturia) is a noun and means “witness bearer,” while martyreo (also spelled martureo) is a verb denoting “to bear witness.” Our English word “martyr,” meaning “one who bears witness by his death,” comes from the Greek root of these words: martyus, meaning “witness.”

Yehohanan ben Zechariah (John son of Zechariah) was the son of a chief priest and, therefore, a chief priest himself.  St. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  According to the Law, a chief priest served as a deacon for 5 years from age 25 to 30.  In his 30th year, he assumed his full duties in the hereditary priesthood as a descendant of Moses’ brother Aaron (see Num 4:3 and 8:23).  St. John’s mother, Elizabeth, was the Virgin Mary’s kinswoman. Most Bible translations render this kinship word as “cousin.”  The Greek word is sugenes [pronounced su-gen-ace], and literally means “kinswoman or relative.”  The word for “cousin” in Greek is anepsios [pronounced ah-nep-see-os].  This is not to say that Elizabeth was not a “cousin” of Mary, but perhaps the inspired writer used the more general term sugenes to indicate that she was not a “cousin” of the first degree.  Elizabeth was much older than Mary; considering how early girls married, she was perhaps older by two generations.

Both of St. John’s parents were descendants of the hereditary priesthood.  Zechariah traced his descent from Abijah (or Abia, 8th of the 24 divisions or courses of the Temple priesthood (see 1 Chron 24:10).  Elizabeth traced her lineage back to the first high priest, Aaron, brother of Moses (Lk 1:5).  It should be noted that all chief priests could trace their line back to Aaron and his sons because, according to the Law, the priesthood belonged to Aaron’s descendants.  The importance of Luke’s account that Elizabeth was the daughter of a chief priest is that John’s hereditary claim to the priesthood was impeccable.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
The first question of the priests from the temple

9 This is the testimony [martyria] of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’

The theme from the Prologue to the Gospel of John is that God sent John the Baptist to witness to the light (Jn 1:6-7).  Verses 20-27 contain his testimony/witness. See CCC# 717

The Priests from the Temple in Jerusalem and the Levites came to question John.  The Levites were a lower degree of the ministerial priesthood.  They served as teachers of the Law and performed assigned functions in the Temple, much like a deacon in the Catholic Church (see Num 3:11-13; 18:1-7).  They came to John to demand an answer to the question: “Who are you?”  These men are the religious authorities of the people of God.  The prophetic symbolism associated with John’s ministry was too strong to ignore.  For example, there was his connection to Isaiah’s prophecy of one coming out of the wilderness and to Malachi’s prophecy that someone like Elijah would announce the coming of the Messiah.  John dressed like Elijah.  The religious authorities wanted to see for themselves what the “signs” meant.  The coming of the Messiah was, in the 1st century AD, a national expectation.  The delegation probably came from the Sanhedrin (the supreme council of the Jews) to answer whether this was the time to fulfill the prophecies.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
John the Baptists answer to their question'

20 he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ [Christos = Messiah].”

It is curious how John answers this official delegation.  He uses a triple combination of positive and negative clauses; the literal translation is “he avowed and did not deny, and avowed…”

  1. #1 = positive [he admitted];
  2. #2 = negative [did not deny];
  3. #3 = positive [but admitted].

This phrase is a significant combination of three, which in Scripture always indicates that the next phrase or event is of great theological importance in God’s divine plan for man’s salvation. What did John “admit” or declare?  He declared that he was not the Messiah (Christ).  Some scholars suggest the “I” is emphatic in his declaration, “I amnot the Christ.” 

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
More questions by the priests

21 So they asked him [literally = so they questioned him further], “What are you then?  Are you Elijah?”  And he said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  He answered, “No.” 

The more literal translation is: They questioned him further (look for a repeat of this phrase).  They asked John if he was the 8th century BC prophet Elijah because everything about John fit the prophecies about the return of Elijah:

  • John was ministering at the location where witnesses saw Elijah assumed into heaven, on the left side of the Jordan River (Jn 1:28; 2 Kng 2:4, 8, 11, 14).
  • He dressed in the same attire as the prophet Elijah (Mt 3:4; 2 Kng 1:8).
  • Malachi prophesied Elijah’s return before the coming of the Messiah, who would bring a “New Covenant” (Mal 3:1, 23; Jer 31:31).
  • John located his ministry at the site of the Jordan River crossing by Joshua and the children of Israel into the Promised Land (Jn 1:28; Josh 3:1, 14-17; see CCC# 718.

For some scholars, it is a problem that John the Baptist does not seem to identify himself as Elijah when this connection seems clear in other passages of the Gospels:

  • Mark 1:2 applies the Malachi 3:1 passage to John the Baptist, identifying him as the one with Elijah’s spirit and power.
  • Matthew 11:14 reports Jesus’ statement concerning John the Baptist: If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
  • Both Mark 9:13 and Matthew 16:12 record Jesus declaring that Elijah had already come, presumably in John the Baptist.

There is no single answer as to why John denies that he is the prophet Elijah, but given the evidence, we can speculate.  The angel Gabriel’s prophecy to John’s father, Zechariah, was that his son would come in Elijah’s “spirit and power” (Lk 1:17) and not as Elijah himself.

Some possible answers to the dilemma:

  • #1: Perhaps sensing the delegation’s hostility, John doesn’t want to “play his hand” quite yet by claiming he has come in fulfillment of the prophecy concerning Elijah.  They could charge him with blasphemy or inciting a riot against the Romans who held political control of Judea.
  • #2:  Perhaps John is denying that he is Elijah because he is discerning that they are asking if he is the reincarnation of Elijah.  Reincarnation was not consistent with Old Covenant beliefs, nor is it acceptable in the Christian faith; divine judgment follows physical death (Heb 9:27).  The claim of reincarnation would be considered blasphemy. John was not the reincarnation of Elijah any more than Elijah’s successor Elisha was the reincarnation of his master.  Elisha received the fullness of the spirit of prophecy that God placed on His servant Elijah.  John received this same anointing of the spirit, and it is in that sense that he is Elijah’s successor.  Pope Gregory the Great reconciles this apparent discrepancy by teaching that John was not Elijah, but he exercised toward Jesus the function of Elijah by preparing his way (Patrologia Latina  76:1100).
  • #3 Some Bible scholars suggest that perhaps John does not fully realize his prophetic role.  Those who believe this is the cause for John’s denial point out that in Matthew chapter 11, when John is imprisoned and awaiting his execution, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come or are we to expect someone else?” Their point is that this passageindicates John does not completely understand God’s plan.  But other scholars suggest John’s disciples and not John were the ones confused, and he sent them to Jesus for Jesus to confirm His identity.

22 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?”

They want to know if he is “the Prophet” of Deuteronomy 18:18-20.  In Acts 3:22-24, the Apostle Peter identifies Jesus as the Prophet like Moses when he quotes the Deuteronomy passage: “Moses, for example, said ‘From among your brothers the Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me; you will listen to whatever he tells you.  Anyone who refuses to listen to that prophet shall be cut off from the people.’  In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days.” Jesus is not only the new Joshua, who will lead God’s people into the Promised Land of Heaven, but He is also the new Moses, the Lawgiver and covenant mediator (see Heb 3:5-6; 7:11-19; 8:6).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
The Elijah and Moses connection

Did you notice in their questions to John that the chief priests connect the prophecies concerning Elijah and the prophet-like-Moses passage?  You can appreciate how the Exodus symbolism and Elijah’s prophecies are foremost in the people’s minds and religious authorities.  These two great men of God summed up salvation history (at that point), with Moses representing the Law and Elijah the prophets of God.  When John denies that he is “the prophet,” he again denies that he is the Messiah. However, it does not appear to be completely clear if 1st century Jews understood that the Prophet and the Messiah were one individual or two (see Jn 1:24-25).  When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and some people in the crowd asked, “Who is this?” others responded, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt 21:10-11).

There are two other events/passages in the New Testament, where Elijah and Moses come together.  The first is the Mount of Transfiguration experience (Mt 17:3; Mk 9:4; Lk 9:30), and the second is the one connected to the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation.  In Revelation 11:3-6, they represent the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah) with the power to turn water into blood (Moses in Ex 6:17-19) and to stop the rain (Elijah in 1 Kng 17:1).

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
John's ritual baptism in the Jordan

24 Some Pharisees were also sent.  25 They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”

In the Greek text, verse 24 reads: the Pharisees questioned him further, a repeat of verse 21. The Pharisees in verse 24 seem to be the second group of emissaries from the Sanhedrin.  The first group was composed of chief priests and Levites.  Perhaps they went back to Jerusalem to report on John’s responses to their questions, and now the Sanhedrin sent the “big guns,” the theologians and leaders in the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court), to question John again.  Considering John’s previous answers, they want justification for his baptism of repentance.  If John the Baptist is not claiming any eschatological role, why is he performing an eschatological action like ritual immersion?

26 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.” 

To undo the strap of his sandal is a slave’s task. It is a phrase repeated in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt 3:11; Mk 1:7 & Lk 3:16), except in those passages, it is in the plural as “sandals.”  In his answer, John is making a distinction between his baptism and the baptism that will be offered by Jesus (see Jn 1:33; Mt 3:11; Mk 1:7-8; Lk 3:16).  John baptizes with water for repentance.  John is not forgiving sins but is instead preparing the people for future forgiveness to come through Christ’s sacrifice.  The difference is that Jesus is to baptize with the Spirit of God (Holy Spirit) and with fire.  This distinction between the two types of baptism is common to all four Gospels and a theological break from traditional Old Covenant belief.  In Hebrew thought, baptism or ritual immersion/cleansing with water and a holy spirit came together.  This distinction between the Old Covenant concept and the New Covenant reality is also emphasized in Acts 19:1-6.  In that passage, St. Paul encounters some of John’s disciples, baptized with his baptism, but who have not received “the Spirit” of God.  This distinction between ritual cleansing with water and a new kind of spiritual blessing recalls the prophecy of the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:25-26, I shall pour [sprinkle] clean water over you, and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols.  I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you(NJB).

28 This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John closes this passage with a geographic reference for the location of John’s ritual of spiritual purification.  “The far side” indicates the eastern shore of the Jordan River.  The Bethany in verse 28 is not the same town where Lazarus and his sisters lived on the Mt. of Olives near Jerusalem.  Bethany means “place [or house] of grace.”  Some ancient texts list the place-name as Bethabara, “place of the crossing.”  Since archaeologists have not discovered, nor has any document disclosed a town of this name dating from the 1st-century AD, most scholars believe that this was the site where the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River when they first entered the Promised Land to begin the conquest of Canaan (Josh 3:14-17).

In the 3rd-century, Origen, the Biblical scholar and former head of the famous Christian school of Theology and Catechesis at Alexandria, Egypt, lived and studied in the Holy Land and agreed with this interpretation.  In his opinion, the site of St. John’s ritual purification and Jesus’ baptism was the “place of the crossing” that had become a “place of grace” [Bethany], and John 1:28 should read “Bethabara.”  An ancient 6th-century AD mosaic called the Madaba map locates Bethabara, but it is across the Jordan River on the western side.  Of course, a river crossing would have two sides (entering and exiting the river), so this map tends to confirm the theory that this is the site of that historic crossing as well as the location of Jesus’ baptism. We also know from the diaries of ancient pilgrims that they commemorated Jesus’ baptism on both sides of the Jordan River, and there were Christian churches built on both sides.  In 1999, archaeologists discovered the ruins of two Byzantine churches on the river’s east and west sides, about 5 miles north of the Dead Sea.  At the site on the east side, the archaeologists also found coins and pottery dating to the 1st-century AD, dating to the time of John the Baptist, perhaps dropped by the crowds awaiting his baptism of repentance.

The site of St. John’s ritual purification in preparation for the coming of the Messiah on the east side of the Jordan River was a fitting location for St. John the Baptist’s ministry.  It was where Joshua (Yahshua/Yehoshua) led the children of Israel across the river into the Promised Land (Josh 3:14-17), and it was the same location where the prophet whose power and spirit empowered St. John entered into heaven (2 Kng 2:6-11).  On the east bank of the Jordan River, St. John the Baptist brought about the baptism of the new Joshua (Jesus and Joshua bore the same Hebrew name).  The new Yahshua’s mission was to free humanity from captivity to sin and death and to lead the people of God into the Promised Land of Heaven.

Agape Bible Study by Michal E. Hunt; used with permission.
PHOTO CREDIT (TOP OF PAGE): 4th century mosaic of a cock, representing light, which fights against a turtle, representing darkness; located in Basilica di Aquileia (Aquileia, Italy)

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Catena Aurea

3B Advent

Catena Aurea

Annotated index of Church Fathers used in commentary

Third Century

  • Origen – Alexandrian biblical critic, exegete, theologian, and spiritual writer; analyzed the Scriptures on three levels: the literal, the moral, and the allegorical
  • Cyprian – pagan rhetorician converted to Christianity; acquired acquired a profound knowledge of the Scriptures and the writings of Tertullian; elected bishop of Carthage; martyred in 258

Fourth Century

  • Eusebius – Bishop of Caesarea; author of Ecclesiastical History, the principal source for the history of Christianity from the Apostolic Age till his own day; also wrote a valuable work on Biblical topography called the Onomasticon
  • Athanasius – Bishop of Alexandria; attended the Council of Nicea; opposed Arianism, in defence of the faith proclaimed at Nicaea—that is, the true deity of God the Son
  • Hilary – Bishop of Poitiers; the earliest known writer of hymns in the Western Church; defended the cause of orthodoxy against Arianism; became the leading Latin theologian of his age
  • Gregory of Nazianzus – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; a great influence in restoring the Nicene faith and leading to its final establishment at the Council of Constantinople in 381
  • Gregory of Nyssa – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; Bishop of Nyssa; took part in the Council of Constantinople
  • Ambrose – Bishop of Milan; partly responsible for the conversion of Augustine; author of Latin hymns; it was through his influence that hymns became an integral part of the liturgy of the Western Church
  • Jerome – biblical scholar; devoted to a life of asceticism and study; his greatest achievement was his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate); also wrote many biblical commentaries
  • Nemesius – Christian philosopher; Bishop of Emesa in Syria
  • Augustine – Bishop of Hippo (in northern Africa); a “Doctor of the Church”; most famous work is his Confessions; his influence on the course of subsequent theology has been immense
  • Chrysostom – Bishop of Constantinople; a “Doctor of the Church”; a gifted orator; his sermons on Gen, Ps, Isa, Matt, John, Acts, and the Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews) established him as the greatest of Christian expositors
  • Prosper of Aquitaine – theologian; supporter of Augustinian doctrines; closely associated with Pope Leo I (“the Great”)
  • Damasus – pope; active in suppressing heresy
  • Apollinaris of Laodicea – Bishop of Laodicea; close friend of Athanasias; vigorous advocate of orthodoxy against the Arians
  • Amphilochius of Iconium – Bishop of Iconium; close friend of the Cappadocian Fathers; defended the full Divinity of the Holy Spirit

Fifth Century

  • Asterius of Amasea – Arian theologian; some extant homilies on the Psalms attributed to him
  • Evagrius Ponticus – spiritual writer; noted preacher at Constantinople; spent the last third of his life living a monastic life in the desert
  • Isidore of Pelusium – an ascetic and exegete; his extant correspondence contains much of doctrinal, exegetical, and moral interest
  • Cyril of Alexandria – Patriarch of Alexandria; contested Nestorius; put into systematic form the classical Greek doctrines of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ
  • Maximus of Turin – Bishop of Turin; over 100 of his sermons survive
  • Cassion (prob. Cassian) – one of the great leaders of Eastern Christian monasticism; founded two monasteries near Marseilles; best known books the Institutes and the Conferences
  • Chrysologus – Bishop of Ravenna; a “Doctor of the Church”
  • Basil “the Great” – one of the “Cappadocian Fathers”; Bishop of Caesarea; responsible for the Arian controversy’s being put to rest at the Council of Constantinople
  • Theodotus of Ancyra – Bishop of Ancyra; wrote against the teaching of Nestorius
  • Leo the Great – Pope who significantly consolidated the influence of the Roman see; a “Doctor of the Church”; his legates defended Christological orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon
  • Gennadius – Patriarch of Constantinople; the author of many commentaries, notably on Genesis, Daniel, and the Pauline Epistles
  • Victor of Antioch – presbyter of Antioch; commentator and collector of earlier exegetical writings
  • Council of Ephesus – declared the teachings of Nestorious heretical, affirming instead the unity between Christ’s human and divine natures
  • Nilus – Bishop of Ancyra; disciple of St John Chrysostom; founder of a monastery; conducted a large correspondence influencing his contemporaries; his writings deal mainly with ascetic and moral subjects

Sixth Century

  • Dionysius Areopagita (aka Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite) – mystical theologian; combined Neoplatonism with Christianity; the aim of all his works is the union of the whole created order with God
  • Gregory the Great – Pope; a “Doctor of the Church”; very prolific writer of works on practical theology, pastoral life, expositions of Job, sermons on the Gospels, etc.
  • Isidore – Bishop of Seville; a “Doctor of the Church”; concerned with monastic discipline, clerical education, liturgical uniformity, conversion of the Jews; helped secure Western acceptance of Filioque clause
  • Eutychius (Patriarch of Constan­tinople) – consecrated the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; defended the Chalcedonian faith against an unorthodox sect; became controversial later in life
  • Isaac (Bp. of Nineveh) (aka Isaac the Syrian) – monastic writer on ascetic subjects
  • Severus (Bp. of Antioch) – Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch; the leading theologian of the moderate Monophysites
  • John Climacus – ascetic and writer on the spiritual life; later Abbot of Mt. Sinai; best known for his Ladder of Divine Ascent which treats of the monastic virtues and vices
  • Fulgentius – Bishop of Ruspe in N. Africa; scholarly disposition; follower of St. Augustine; wrote many treatises against Arianism and Pelagianism

Seventh Century

  • Maximus ( of Constantinople, 645.) – Greek theologian; prolific writer on doctrinal, ascetical, exegetical, and liturgical subjects

Eighth Century

  • Bede (131CESK) – “the Venerable Bede”; a “Doctor of the Church”; pedagogue, biblical exegete, hagiographer, and historian, the most influential scholar from Anglo-Saxon England
  • John Damascene – Greek theologian; a “Doctor of the Church”; defender of images in the Iconoclastic Controversy; expounded the doctrine of the perichoresis (circumincession) of the Persons of the Trinity
  • Alcuin – Abbot of St. Martin’s (Tours); a major contributor to the Carolingian Renaissance; supervised the production of several complete editions of the Bible; responsible for full acceptance of the Vulgate in the West

Ninth Century

  • Haymo (of Halberstadt) – German Benedictine monk who became bishop of Halberstadt; prolific writer
  • Photius (of Constantinople) – Patriarch of Constantinople; a scholar of wide interests and encyclopedic knowledge; his most important work, Bibliotheca, is a description of several hundred books (many now lost), with analyses and extracts; also wrote a Lexicon
  • Rabanus Maurus – Abbot of Fulda in Hess Nassau; later Archbishop of Mainz; wrote commentaries on nearly every Book of the Bible
  • Remigius (of Auxerre) – monk, scholar, and teacher
  • Paschasius Radbertus – Carolingian theologian; wrote commentaries on Lamentations and Matthew, as well as the first doctrinal monograph on the Eucharist, he maintained the real Presence of Christ

Eleventh Century

  • Theophylact – Byzantine exegete; his principal work, a series of commentaries on several OT books and on the whole of the NT except Revelation, is marked by lucidity of thought and expression and closely follows the scriptural text
  • Anselm – Archbishop of Canterbury; a “Doctor of the Church”; highly regarded teacher and spiritual director; famous ontological argument for the existence of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought”
  • Petrus Alphonsus – Jewish Spanish writer and astronomer, a convert to Christianity; one of the most important figures in anti-Judaic polemics
  • Laufranc (prob. Lanfranc) – Archbishop of Canterbury; commented on the Psalms and Pauline Epistles; his biblical commentary passed into the Glossa Ordinaria

The Catena Aurea (Golden Chain) is Thomas Aquinas’ compilation of Patristic commentary on the Gospels. It seamlessly weaves together extracts from various Church Fathers.

JN 1:6-8, 19-28

TOGGLE VERSES 6-8

6. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

8. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. ii. c. 2) What is said above, refers to the Divinity of Christ. He came to us in the form of man, but man in such sense, as that the Godhead was concealed within Him. And therefore there was sent before a great man, to declare by his witness that He was more than man. And who was this? He was a man.

THEOPHYLACT. Not an Angel, as many have held. The Evangelist here refutes such a notion.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. ii) And how could he declare the truth concerning God, unless he were sent from God.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. vi. [v.] c. 1) After this esteem nothing that he says as human; for he speaketh not his own, but his that sent him. And therefore the Prophet calls him a messenger, I send My messenger, (Mal. 3:1) for it is the excellence of a messenger, to say nothing of his own. But the expression, was sent, does not mean his entrance into life, but to his office. As Esaias was sent on his commission, not from any place out of the world, but from where he saw the Lord sitting upon His high and lofty throne; (Isai. 6:1.) in like manner John was sent from the desert to baptize; for he says, He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. (John 1:33)

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. ii) What was he called? whose name was John?

ALCUIN. That is, the grace of God, or one in whom is grace, who by his testimony first made known to the world the grace of the New Testament, that is, Christ. Or John may be taken to mean, to whom it is given: because that through the grace of God, to him it was given, not only to herald, but also to baptize the King of kings.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. ii. c. 6) Wherefore came he? The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light.

ORIGEN. (t. ii. c. 28) Some try to undo the testimonies of the Prophets to Christ, by saying that the Son of God had no need of such witnesses; the wholesome words which He uttered and His miraculous acts being sufficient to produce belief; just as Moses deserved belief for his speech and goodness, and wanted no previous witnesses. To this we may reply, that, where there are a number of reasons to make people believe, persons are often impressed by one kind of proof, and not by another, and God, Who for the sake of all men became man, can give them many reasons for belief in Him. And with respect to the doctrine of the Incarnation, certain it is that some have been forced by the Prophetical writings into an admiration of Christ by the fact of so many prophets having, before His advent, fixed the place of His nativity; and by other proofs of the same kind. It is to be remembered too, that, though the display of miraculous powers might stimulate the faith of those who lived in the same age with Christ, they might, in the lapse of time, fail to do so; as some of them might even get to be regarded as fabulous. Prophecy and miracles together are more convincing than simply past miracles by themselves. We must recollect too that men receive honour themselves from the witness which they bear to God. He deprives the Prophetical choir of immeasurable honour, whoever denies that it was their office to bear witness to Christ. John when he comes to bear witness to the light, follows in the train of those who went before him.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. vi. [v.] in Joh. c. 1) Not because the light wanted the testimony, but for the reason which John himself gives, viz. that all might believe on Him. For as He put on flesh to save all men from death; so He sent before Him a human preacher, that the sound of a voice like their own, might the readier draw men to Him.

BEDE. (Bed. in loc.) He saith not, that all men should believe in him; for, cursed be the man that trusteth in man; (Jer. 17:5) but, that all men through him might believe; i. e. by his testimony believe in the Light.

THEOPHYLACT. Though some however might not believe, he is not accountable for them. When a man shuts himself up in a dark room, so as to receive no light from the sun’s rays, he is the cause of the deprivation, not the sun. In like manner John was sent, that all men might believe; but if no such result followed, he is not the cause of the failure.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. vi. in Joh. c. 1) Forasmuch however as with us, the one who witnesses, is commonly a more important, a more trustworthy person, than the one to whom he bears witness, to do away with any such notion in the present case the Evangelist proceeds; He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. If this were not his intention, in repeating the words, to bear witness of the Light, the addition would be superfluous, and rather a verbal repetition, than the explanation of a truth.

THEOPHYLACT. But it will be said, that we do not allow John or any of the saints to be or ever to have been light. The difference is this: If we call any of the saints light, we put light without the article. So if asked whether John is light, without the article, thou mayest allow without hesitation that he is: if with the article, thou allow it not. For he is not very, original, light, but is only called so, on account of his partaking of the light, which cometh from the true Light.

TOGGLE VERSES 19-23

19. And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?

20. And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

21. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.

22. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?

23. He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

ORIGEN. (in Joan. tom. ii. c. 29) This is the second testimony of John the Baptist to Christ, the first began with, This is He of Whom I spake; and ended with, He hath declared Him.

THEOPHYLACT. (in loc.) Or, after the introduction above of John’s testimony to Christ, is preferred before me, the Evangelist now adds when the above testimony was given, And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem.

ORIGEN. (t. vi. c. 4) The Jews of Jerusalem, as being of kin to the Baptist, who was of the priestly stock, send Priests and Levites to ask him who he is; (c. 6). that is, men considered to hold a superior rank to the rest of their order, by God’s election, and coming from that favoured above all cities, Jerusalem. Such is the reverential way in which they interrogate John. We read of no such proceeding towards Christ: but what the Jews did to John, John in turn does to Christ, when he asks Him, through His disciples, Art thou He that should come, (Luke 7:20) or look we for another?

CHRYSOSTOM. (in Joan. Hom. xvi. [xv.]) Such confidence had they in John, that they were ready to believe him on his own words: witness how it is said, To ask him, Who art thou?

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. 4. c. 3) They would not have sent, unless they had been impressed by his lofty exercise of authority, in daring to baptize.

ORIGEN. (in Joh. tom. vi. c. 6) John, as it appears, saw from the question, that the Priests and Levites had doubts whether it might not be the Christ, who was baptizing; which doubts however they were afraid to profess openly, for fear of incurring the charge of credulity. He wisely determines therefore first to correct their mistake, and then to proclaim the truth. Accordingly, he first of all shews that he is not the Christ: And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. We may add here, that at this time the people had already begun to be impressed with the idea that Christ’s advent was at hand, in consequence of the interpretations which the lawyers had collected out of the sacred writings to that effect. Thus Theudas had been enabled to collect together a considerable body, on the strength of his pretending to be the Christ; and after him Judas, in the days of the, taxation, had done the same. (Acts 5) Such being the strong expectation of Christ’s advent then prevalent, the Jews send to John, intending by the question, Who art thou? to extract from him whether he were the Christ.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Evang. c. 1) He denied directly being what he was not, but he did not deny what he was: thus, by his speaking truth, becoming a true member of Him Whose name he had not dishonestly usurped.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xvi. [xv.] 1, 2) Or take this explanation: The Jews were influenced by a kind of human sympathy for John, whom they were reluctant to see made subordinate to Christ, on account of the many marks of greatness about him; his illustrious descent in the first place, he being the son of a chief priest; in the next, his hard training, and his contempt of the world. Whereas in Christ the contrary were apparent; a humble birth, for which they, reproach Him; Is not this the carpenter’s son? (Mat. 13:55) an ordinary way of living; a dress such as every one else wore. As John then was constantly sending to Christ, they send to him, with the view of having him for their master, and thinking to induce him, by blandishments, to confess himself Christ. They do not therefore send inferior persons to him, ministers and Herodians, as they did to Christ, but Priests and Levites; and not of these an indiscriminate party, but those of Jerusalem, i. e. the more honourable ones; but they send them with this question, to ask, Who art thou? not from a wish to be informed, but in order to induce him to do what I have said. John replies then to their intention, not to their interrogation: And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And observe the wisdom of the Evangelist: he repeats the same thing three times, to shew John’s virtue, and the malice and madness of the Jews. For it is the character of a devoted servant, not only to forbear taking to himself his lord’s glory, but even, when numbers offer it to him, to reject it. The multitude indeed believed from ignorance that John was the Christ, but in these it was malice; and in this spirit they put the question to him, thinking, by their blandishments to bring him over to their wishes. For unless this had been their design, when he replied, I am not the Christ, they would have said, We did not suspect this; we did not come to ask this. When caught, however, and discovered in their purpose, they proceed to another question: And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias?

AUGUSTINE. (in Joan. Tr. iv. c. 4) For they knew that Elias was to preach Christ; the name of Christ not being unknown to any among the Jews; but they did not think that He our Lord was the Christ: and yet did not altogether imagine that there was no Christ about to come. In this way, while looking forward to the future, they mistook at the present.

And he said, I am not.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. c. 1) These words gave rise to a very different question. In another place, our Lord, when asked by His disciples concerning the coming of Elias, replied, If ye will receive it, this is Elias. (Mat. 11:14) But John says, I am not Elias. How is he then a preacher of the truth, if he agrees not with what that very Truth declares?

ORIGEN. (in Joan. tom. vi. c. 7) Some one will say that John was ignorant that he was Elias; as those say, who maintain, from this passage the doctrine of a second incorporation, as though the soul took up a new body, after leaving its old one. For the Jews, it is said, asking John by the Levites and priests, whether he is Elias, suppose the doctrine of a second body to be already certain; as though it rested upon tradition, and were part of their secret system. To which question, however, John replies, I am not Elias: not being acquainted with his own prior existence. But how is it reasonable to imagine, if John were a prophet enlightened by the Spirit, and had revealed so much concerning the Father, and the Only-Begotten, that he could be so in the dark as to himself, as not to know that his own soul had once belonged to Elias?

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Evang. c. 1) But if we examine the truth accurately, that which sounds inconsistent, will be found not really so. The Angel told Zacharias concerning John, He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias. (Luke 1:17) As Elias then will preach the second advent of our Lord, so John preached His first; as the former will come as the precursor of the Judge, so the latter was made the precursor of the Redeemer. John was Elias in spirit, not in person: and what our Lord affirms of the spirit, John denies of the Person: there being a kind of propriety in this; viz. that our Lord to His disciples should speak spiritually of John, and that John, in answering the carnal multitude, should speak of his body, not of his spirit.

ORIGEN. (in Joan. tom. vi. c. 7) He answers then the Levites and Priests, I am not, conjecturing what their question meant: for the purport of their examination was to discover, not whether the spirit in both was the same, but whether John was that very Elias, who was taken up, now appearing again, as the Jews expected, without another birthI. But he whom we mentioned above as holding this doctrine of a reincorporation, will say that it is not consistent that the Priests and Levites should be ignorant of the birth of the son of so dignified a priest as Zacharias, who was born too in his father’s old age, and contrary to all human probabilities: especially when Luke declares, that fear came on all that dwelt round about them. (Luke 1:65) But perhaps, since Elias was expected to appear before the coming of Christ near the end, they may seem to put the question figuratively, Art thou he who announcest the coming of Christ at the end of the world? to which he answers, I am not. But there is in fact nothing strange in supposing that John’s birth might not have been known to all. For as in the case of our Saviour many knew Him to be born of Mary, and yet some wrongly imagined that He was John the Baptist, or Elias, or one of the Prophets; so in the case of John, some were not unacquainted with the fact of his being son of Zacharias, and yet some may have been in doubt whether he were not the Elias who was expected. Again, inasmuch as many prophets had arisen in Israel, but one was especially looked forward to, of whom Moses had prophesied, The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him shall ye hearken: (Deut. 18, 15) they ask him in the third place, not simply whether he is a prophet, but with the article prefixed, Art thou that Prophet? For every one of the prophets in succession had signified to the people of Israel that he was not the one whom Moses had prophesied of; who, like Moses, was to stand in the midst between God and man, and deliver a testament, sent from God to His disciples. They did not however apply this name to Christ, but thought that He was to be a different person; whereas John knew that Christ was that Prophet, and therefore to this question, he answered, No.

AUGUSTINE. (in Joan. Tr. iv. c. 8) Or because John was more than a prophet: for that the prophets announced Him afar off, but John pointed Him out actually present.

Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xvi. [xv.] 2) You see them here pressing him still more strongly with their questions, while he on the other hand quietly puts down their suspicions, where they are untrue, and establishes the truth in their place: saying, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. iv. c. 7) So spoke Esaias: the prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. c. 2) Ye know that the only-begotten Son is called the Word of the Father. Now we know, in the case of our own utterance, the voice first sounds, and then the word is heard. Thus John declares himself to be the voice, i. e. because he precedes the Word, and, through his ministry, the Word of the Father is heard by man.

ORIGEN. (in Joan. tom. vi. c. 12) Heracleon, in his discussion on John and the Prophets, infers that because the Saviour was the Word, and John the voice, therefore the whole of the prophetic order was only sound. To which we reply, that, if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle? If the voice of prophecy is nothing but sound, why does the Saviour send us to it, saying, Search the Scriptures? (John 5:39) But John calls himself the voice, not that crieth, but of one that crieth in the wilderness; viz. of Him Who stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. (John 7:37) He cries, in order that those at a distance may hear him, and understand from the loudness of the sound, the vastness of the thing spoken of.

THEOPHYLACT. (in loc.) Or because he declared the truth plainly, while all who were under the law spoke obscurely.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Ev. c. 2) John crieth in the wilderness, because it is to forsaken and destitute Judæa that he bears the consolatory tidings of a Redeemer.

ORIGEN. (tom. vi. c. 10. 11) There is need of the voice crying in the wilderness, that the soul, forsaken by God, may be recalled to making straight the way of the Lord, following no more the crooked paths of the serpent. This has reference both to the contemplative life, as enlightened by truth, without mixture of falsehood, and to the practical, as following up the correct perception by the suitable action. Wherefore he adds, Make straight the way of the Lord, as saith the prophet, Esaias.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Evang. c. 2) The way of the Lord is made straight to the heart, when the word of truth is heard with humility; the way of the Lord is made straight to the heart, when the life is formed upon the precept.

TOGGLE VERSES 24-28

24. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.

25. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou he not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?

26. John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;

27. He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.

28. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.

ORIGEN. (in Joan. tom. vi. c. 13) The questions of the priests and Levites being answered, another mission comes from the Pharisees: And they that were sent were of the Pharisees. So far as it is allowable to form a conjecture from the discourse itself here, I should say that it was the third occasion of John’s giving his witness. Observe the mildness of the former question, so befitting the priestly and levitical character, Who art thou? There is nothing arrogant or disrespectful, but only what becomes true ministers of God. The Pharisees however, being a sectarian body, as their name implies, address the Baptist in an importunate and contumelious way. And they said, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, neither Elias, neither that Prophet? not caring about information, but only wishing to prevent him baptizing. Yet the very next thing they did, was to come to John’s baptism. The solution of this is, that they came not in faith, but hypocritically, because they feared the people.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xvi. [al. xv.] 2) Or, those very same priests and Levites were of the Pharisees, and, because they could not undermine him by blandishments, began accusing, after they had compelled him to say what he was not. And they asked him, saying, Why baptizest thou then, if thou art not the Christ, neither Elias, neither that Prophet? As if it were an act of audacity in him to baptize, when he was neither the Christ, nor His precursor, nor His proclaimer, i. e. that Prophet.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Evang c. 3) A saint, even when perversely questioned, is never diverted from the pursuit of goodness. Thus John to the words of envy opposes the words of life: John answered them, saying, I indeed baptize with water.

ORIGEN. (in Joan. tom. vi. c. 15) For how would the question, Why then baptizest thou, be replied to in any other way, than by setting forth the carnal nature of his own baptism?

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Evang. c. 3) John baptizeth not with the Spirit, but with water; not being able to remit sins, he washes the bodies of the baptized with water, but not their souls with pardon. Why then doth he baptize, when he doth not remit sins by baptism? To maintain his character of forerunner. As his birth preceded our Lord’s, so doth his baptism precede our Lord’s baptism. And he who was the forerunner of Christ in His preaching, is forerunner also in His baptism, which was the imitation of that Sacrament. And withal he announces the mystery of our redemption, saying that He, the Redeemer, is standing in the midst of men, and they know it not: There standeth one among you, whom ye know not: for our Lord, when He appeared in the flesh, was visible in body, but in majesty invisible.

CHRYSOSTOM. (xvi. 3) One among you. It was fitting that Christ should mix with the people, and be one of the many, shewing every where His humility. Whom ye know not; i. e. not, in the most absolute and certain sense; not, who He is, and whence Ho is.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. iv. c. 9) In His low estate He was not seen; and therefore the candle was lighted.

THEOPHYLACT. (in loc.) Or it was, that our Lord was in the midst of the Pharisees; and they not knowing Him. For they thought that they knew the Scriptures, and therefore, inasmuch as our Lord was pointed out there, He was in the midst of them, i. e. in their hearts. But they knew Him not, inasmuch as they understood not the Scriptures. Or take another interpretation. He was in the midst of them, as mediator between God and man, wishing to bring them, the Pharisees, to God. But they knew Him not.

ORIGEN. (in Joan. tom. vi. c. 15) Or thus; Having said, I indeed baptize with water, in answer to the question, Why baptizest thou then?—to the next, If thou be not Christ? he replies by declaring the preexistent substance of Christ; that it was of such virtue, that though His Godhead was invisible, He was present to every one, and pervaded the whole world; as is conveyed in the words; There standeth one among you. For He it is, Who hath diffused Himself through the whole system of nature, insomuch that every thing which is created, is created by Him; All things were made by Him. Whence it is evident that even those who enquired of John, Why baptizest thou then? had Him among them. Or, the words, There standeth one among you, are to be understood of mankind generally. For, from our character as rational beings, it follows that the words exists in the centre of us, because the heart, which is the spring of motion within us, is situated in the centre of the body. Those then who carry the word within them, but are ignorant of its nature, and the source and beginning and the way in which it resides in them; these, hearing the word within them, know it not. But John recognised Him, and reproached the Pharisees, saying, Whom ye know not. For, though expecting Christ’s coming, the Pharisees had formed no lofty conception of Him, but supposed that He would only be a holy man: wherefore he briefly refutes their ignorance, and the false ideas that they had of His excellence. He saith, standeth; for as the Father standeth, i. e. exists without variation or change, so standeth the Word ever in the work of salvation, though It assume flesh, though It be in the midst of men, though It stand invisible. Lest any one however should think that the invisible One Who cometh to all men, and to the universal world, is different from Him Who was made man, and appeared on the earth, he adds, He that cometh after me; i. e. Who will appear after me. The after however here has not the same meaning that it has, when Christ calls us after Him; for there we are told to follow after Him, that by treading in His steps, we may attain to the Father; but here the word is used to intimate what should follow upon John’s teaching; for he came that all may believe, having by his ministry been fitted gradually by lesser things, for the reception of the perfect Word. Therefore he saith, He it is Who cometh after me.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xvi. [al. xv.] 3) As if he said, Do not think that every thing is contained in my baptism; for if my baptism were perfect, another would not come after me with another baptism. This baptism of mine is but an introduction to the other, and will soon pass away, like a shadow, or an image. There is One coming after me to establish the truth: and therefore this is not a perfect baptism; for, if it were, there would be no room for a second: and therefore he adds, Who is made before me: i. e. is more honourable, more lofty.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Ev. c. 3) Made before me, i. e. preferred before me. He comes after me, that is, He is born after me; He is made before me, that is, He is preferred to me.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xvi. [al. xv.] 3) But lest thou shouldest think this to be the result of comparison, he immediately shews it to be a superiority beyond all comparison; Whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose: as if He said, He is so much before me, that I am unworthy to be numbered among the lowest of His attendants: the unloosing of the sandal being the very lowest kind of service.

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. iv) To have pronounced himself worthy even of unloosing His shoe’s latchet, he would have been thinking too much of himself.

GREGORY. (Hom. vii. in Ev. c. 3) Or thus: It was a law of the old dispensation, that, if a man refused to take the woman, who of right came to him, to wife, he who by right of relationship came next to be the husband, should unloose his shoe. Now in what character did Christ appear in the world, but as Spouse of the Holy Church? (John 3:29.) John then very properly pronounced himself unworthy to unloose this shoe’s latchet: as if he said, I cannot uncover the feet of the Redeemer, for I claim not the title of spouse, which I have no right to. Or the passage may be explained in another way. We know that shoes are made out of dead animals. Our Lord then, when He came in the flesh, put on, as it were, shoes; because in His Divinity He took the flesh of our corruption, wherein we had of ourselves perished. And the latchet of the shoe, is the seal upon the mystery. John is not able to unloose the shoe’s latchet; i. e. even he cannot penetrate into the mystery of the Incarnation. So he seems to say: What wonder that He is preferred before me, Whom, being born after me, I contemplate, yet the mystery of Whose birth I comprehend not.

ORIGEN. (tom. vi. in Joan.) The place has been understood not amiss thus by a certain person1; I am not of such importance, as that for my sake He should descend from this high abode, and take flesh upon Him, as it were a shoe.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xvii. [al. xvi.] 1. in Joan) John having preached the thing concerning Christ publicly and with becoming liberty, the Evangelist mentions the place of His preaching: These things were done in Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. For it was in no house or corner that John preached Christ, but beyond Jordan, in the midst of a multitude, and in the presence of all whom He had baptized. Some copies read more correctly Bethabara: for Bethany was not beyond Jordan, or in the desert, but near Jerusalem.

GLOSS. Or we must suppose two Bethanies; one over Jordan, the other on this side, not far from Jerusalem, the Bethany where Lazarus was raised from the dead.

CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. xvii) He mentions this too for another reason, viz. that as He was relating events which had only recently happened, He might, by a reference to the place, appeal to the testimony of those who were present and saw them.

ALCUIN. The meaning of Bethany is, house of obedience; by which it is intimated to us, that all must approach to baptism, through the obedience of faith.

ORIGEN. (tom. vi. c. 24) Bethabara means house of preparation; which agreeth with the baptism of Him, who was making ready a people prepared for the Lord. (c.25. et seq.). Jordan, again, means, “their descent.” Now what is this river but our Saviour, through Whom coming into this earth all must be cleansed, in that He came down not for His own sake, but for theirs. This river it is which separateth the lots given by Moses, from those given by Jesus; its streams make glad the city of God. (c. 29). As the serpent lies hid in the Egyptian river, so doth God in this; for the Father is in the Son. Wherefore whosoever go thither to wash themselves, lay aside the reproach of Egypt, (Joshua 5:9.) are made meet to receive the inheritance, are cleansed from leprosy, (2 Kings 5:14.) are made capable of a double portion of grace, and ready to receive the Holy Spirit; (2 Kings 2:9.) nor doth the spiritual dove light upon any other river. John again baptizes beyond Jordan, as the precursor of Him Who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

SOURCE: eCatholic 2000Commentary in public domain.
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