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The herald of the King


baptist3THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

As we examine the gospel of Luke this year, we see that for this gospel writer, the emergence of John the Baptist was one of the hinges on which history turned. He dramatically dates it in six different ways.  Here’s the text . . .

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, 
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, 
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis, 
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, 
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, 
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  (Lk. 3:1-6)

First of all, he begins by citing Roman, Gentile—not Jewish history.   Tiberius was the successor of Augustus and therefore the second of the Roman emperors. Luke thus begins by setting the emergence of John against a world background, that of the Roman empire—this according to scripture scholar William Barclay.

The next three dates are connected to the political organization of Palestine, mentioning Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother Philip.

And then turning to the religious situation, he dates John’s emergence in the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the actual high priest, Annas was still the most influential priestly figure in the land. (All these men, of course, were also to be actors on the stage of Jesus’ trial and execution a few years later.)

Barclay suggests a unique way of understanding the quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5:

“When a king proposed to tour a part of his dominions, he sent a courier before him to tell the people to prepare the roads. So John is regarded as the King’s courier or herald. But the preparation on which he insisted was a preparation of heart and of life. ‘The King is coming,’ he said. ‘Mend. Not your roads, but your lives.’”

There’s also an interesting point about Luke’s quotation of Isaiah here that’s different from the other three gospels. He brings it to its logical conclusion: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke is the gospel for the Gentiles—the gospel for everyone; he excludes no one, like our Pope Francis.

The King shall come when morning dawns

And light triumphant breaks,

When beauty gilds the eastern hills

And life to joy awakes.

Not, as of old, a little child,

To bear, and fight, and die,

But crowned with glory like the sun

That lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns

And light and beauty brings.

Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray:

Come quickly, King of kings. 

And, before you go, here’s a rendering of Handel’s And the glory of the Lord that contains the line quoted in Isaiah.      Click here, and be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.

And here are all of Sunday’s Mass readings for your reflection: Click here.  

With love, Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer 

Acknowledgment:  William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke                                                                                             Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975-2001

 

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