Thursday, June 24, 2010

The One Sent Ahead

This year, for some reason, I found the Office reading for the eve of the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptizer raised a question. The text is from Luke 1:5-23, where the angel appears to John's father, Zechariah, in the sanctuary, announcing the birth of John. The angel compares the Baptizer to Elijah, saying: "...With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord..." What does that reference to the parents and children mean? It's a repeat of Malachi 4:6, but every commentary I've read either doesn't deal with it or simply refers to the Malachi text. The angel seems to be outlining John's mission: 1) turning parents' hearts to their children, 2) guiding those who don't really "listen" (ob + audire = to really listen), which is what disobedience essentially is, and finally, 3) to get God's people prepared to receive the Messiah. But though the last two items seem to make sense, I find the other one interesting. Why, particularly, would John's mission be to "turn the parents hearts to their children"?

The texts for the Morning Office today offer some quite relevant guides for further meditation, especially the reading from Malachi 3:1-5: "...Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts..." For me that text takes on a great deal of importance, in light of our current pitched battle over immigration and in light of the outrageous new Arizona law. 

Such a text always seems to make it easier for us to point fingers at others, particularly the ones who make the daily news. All of us need to bear in mind that we have feet of clay also. Perhaps the best advice for our daily living, while not fearing to speak the Gospel's truth when and where it applies, is that given by John himself in the Gospel of John 3:30: "...He must increase, but I must decrease..."

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