sabato 9 dicembre 2017

«Rectas facite semitas eius»

As we were saying last Sunday, this year we will read the gospel of Mark, probably the first gospel to be written. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who start their gospels with an infancy narrative, Mark begins his account straight with the public ministry of Jesus, which opens with his baptism at the Jordan. But, before speaking of the baptism, Mark introduces the baptizer, namely John, the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, the cousin of Jesus.

John is the main character of the two central weeks of Advent. Why? Because he is the precursor, the forerunner of Jesus. Although of the same age as Jesus, he started his ministry before him. He left everything and withdrew into the desert, like a monk, leading a very austere life. The gospel says, “He fed on locusts and wild honey.” His garb was like that of the prophets: he “was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.” Actually, he was a real prophet. One day Jesus will say, “What did you go out to the desert to see? … To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” And then he will add, “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come” (Mt 11:7.9.14). The prophet Malachi had said, “I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes” (Mal 3:23). So, the Jews were waiting for the coming of Elijah as a precursor of the Messiah. And Jesus states that John is Elijah.

What is the mission of the Messiah’s precursor? To prepare his way. Mark says this quoting the prophet Isaiah, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (rectas facite semitas eius).’” We have heard this prophecy in the first reading: originally, it referred to the end of the Babylonian exile, when the Jews had to cross the desert to come back to their land. Now the same prophecy is applied to the coming of Jesus: there is need of someone who paves the way for him; which means one who prepares the hearts to welcome him.

How? Urging to repentance. The best way of preparing ourselves for the coming of the Messiah is to acknowledge our sins. Those who do not recognize themselves as sinners cannot recognize Jesus as the Messiah, because they consider themselves righteous and so do not feel in need of salvation. Repentance is the necessary condition in order to be saved. Peter says in the second reading, “[God] is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The exterior sign of this interior conversion is baptism: “People of the all Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to [John] and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” It is not yet the sacrament of baptism; it is just a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

John is aware of his limits. He knows that he is not the Messiah: “One mightier than I is coming after me.” He is just a servant: “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” There is no comparison between his mission and that of the Messiah: “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” We cannot but admire such a humility; but this does not mean that John’s mission was of no importance: preparing the ground was indispensable for the success of Jesus’ mission.

John’s mission is the mission of the Church today, is our own mission: we too have to prepare the way of the Lord. Then he himself will perform his mission, but we have to pave the way for him. And we can do that, acknowledging our sins and inviting others to repentance. No conversion, no salvation.