John the Baptist, the Prophet of Mercy

Lectio divina: 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C

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Roman Rite

Second Sunday of Advent – Year C – December 6, 2015

Bar 5, 1-9; Ps 126; Phil 1, 4-6.8-11; Lk 3, 1-6


Ambrosian Rite

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Is 4.2 to 5; Ps 23; Hob 2.5 to 15; Lk 19.28 to 38?

The entrance of the Messiah



1) John: a voice to be listen in order to meet Jesus.

In the Gospel passage of this second Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation to welcome the God who comes, St Luke frames the story of John the Baptist in the history of the people of Israel to highlight the promise of God to send the Messiah. The Evangelist in the first two chapters of his book draws a very close parallel between Jesus and his precursor John with diptychs in which alternately he shows Jesus and John the Baptist in their infancy. The parallel continues in the narrative of their public life with a particular attention: when the scene is occupied by Jesus, John disappears. Luke wants to emphasize that Jesus begins a new era, the one of salvation, that John had the task of introducing.

Presenting the figure of John the Precursor and the baptizer, the liturgy of Advent teaches us that to the going of man corresponds the coming of God, and the encounter, by faith, is in the flesh of Christ. We are invited by the voice of the prophet John to prepare the way for the Lord. It is no longer a way in the desert, but the road to the heart of each one of us that must be open to the coming God. Let us therefore be guided by the Voice that indicates to us the Word of mercy («Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world»). «Sweetest is the word» mercy «, dear brothers and sisters, but if the name is already sweet, more is the reality itself. Although everyone wants to receive mercy, not all behave in a way to deserve it. While everyone wants mercy to be used towards them, few are those who use it for others. “Man, how do you dare asking what you refuse to give to others? Those wishing to obtain mercy in heaven must grant it on this earth. Since all of us, dear brothers and sisters, wish that mercy is given to us, let’s make it our protector in this world, so that it is our liberator in the other «(San Caesarius of Arles, Speeches).

To live well this time of Advent -during which on December 8 the Year of Mercy will be open- let’s take seriously the invitation of St John, the Prophet of mercy, proclaiming forgiveness and crying (the Greek text uses the word kerisso that means scream, say out loud): «Prepare the way of the Lord» (Is 40: 3; Luke 3, 4) who comes to forgive as the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

«Prepare the way of the Lord» is for us a «command» to look at our lives and to direct (convert) our lives to the Lord Jesus who comes at Christmas, as he comes every day until the end of  our life and as he  will come at the end of human history.

«Prepare the way of the Lord» is an «invitation» to imitate the figure of John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord, and asking strongly  to the people to convert that is to direct their lives to the Lord Jesus. There is no personal conversion that does not become also a call to the other: the experience pushes to share with everybody because what is beautiful should be shared.

In sharing the One who comes the dust of history that are our little lives become the history of God, and all men and women shall see their salvation. Only in this way we will become witnesses and heralds of a strong, perturbing and engaging presence of the Lord Jesus.

Each of us must become the voice of the Word that is Jesus, taking seriously the command «Prepare the way of the Lord.» This means to prepare the roads where the word resounds, to multiply the way of listening to the Word and prepare the way of the Word made flesh.


2) In the desert to prepare for the encounter with the God who comes.

But where to go to hear the Word spoken by the Voice and to listen to the witness of the Light and Mercy? Looking at the figure of John the Precursor the answer is: «In the desert,» because it is there that the Baptist preaches. For this reason the Church makes hers the cry of the Holy Scripture: «In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord» (Is 40: 3).

Desert (Hebrew midebar) means «what comes from the Word.» Geographically the desert of the Holy Land is a mountainous region with little vegetation, sparsely inhabited, home of shepherds, bandits and hermits (Eremos in Greek means wilderness, desert).

But in the Bible the desert is a place which we have to cross. Think of the exodus of Jews from Egypt. It is not possible to arrive somewhere, to the Promised Land, unless we have the courage and the strength to cope with our desert. It was a necessary step after the liberation from Egypt (Ex 5.1; 13: 17-21) and the one from the Babylonians (Is 40.3); it was a necessary place for Moses (Ex 3), Elijah (1 Kings 19), Paul (Gal 1:17) and Jesus (Lk 4, 1-13). The desert more than a physical place, is a place of the heart («I will take you there in the desert and speak tenderly to you» see. Hos 2:16), a dimension of life.

The desert is the place where one can simplify his or her life. The desert is a place of radical choice, where each idol (power, success, popularity, pride, wealth) dies, in which the relationship between God, man and the earth is purified and where man agrees to walk with God relying only to him. In the desert we experience a solitude which is not an end in itself, but a condition in which God is leading us so that we can better hear his voice always speaking to our hearts (see Hos 2:16).

John the Baptist in the desert firmly invites: «Repent», a verb that in Greek said in two ways. One, epistréfo = to turn to, which indicates return to God and religious conversion, to go to the temple and to religious practices. The other, which is what is used today in the Gospel, indicates a change of mentality (metanoeo) implying a change of behavior. The call to change and to conversion is motivated by the fact that God is near, Jesus is coming.

Christmas is near: let’s renew our ways, straightening the crooked ones of selfishness and arrogance, giving way to the charity, the only one capable of properly preparing the encounter. To prepare the way of the Lord is to restructure the way of the heart that allows «to distinguish what is best and to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ» (Philippians 1:10).

To prepare the way of the Lord means to give up sin, wickedness, jealousy.

To prepare the way of the Lord means to receive the baptism of repentance, begging mercy for the forgiveness of sins.

Finally, in the Year of Mercy which opens on the day dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, to prepare the way of the Lord is to imitate Our Lady, who with her willingness prepared the way for the Lord in prayer, silence and love of neighbor. Let’s ask for the grace of God through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin in order to prepare our hearts and our minds to be worthy to receive Jesus, «the face of the Mercy of the Father» (Pope Francis).

     In this Marian fashion to prepare the way, we have the example of the consecrated Virgins in the world. With their yes to Christ they imitate the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. In the careful silence of the heart, these consecrated women welcome in prayer the richness of God’s word. Cultivating the love for Christ, they love life and put themselves to the service of those who beg life. I wish them that, through the intercession of the Mother of Mercy, they may respond to the call of their Bridegroom Jesus, to
be light of the world and salt of the earth (Mt 5: 13-14), to never fail their sublime vocation by surrounding to the deceitful charm of the world but preserving their chastity.  May the Mother of Mercy grant them to reflect her maternal love so to become true spiritual mothers.

Through the acceptance of God as the only absolute and unique Good, they opened to the needs and sufferance of the others and persist with the involvement of all human being’s dimensions – soul, heart and body too- in the awake and fecund waiting of the unique Bridegroom and Lord of Life (Cfr Rite for the consecration of virgins, Draft of homily, n. 29; explicatory rites, nn. 39-40).

Patristic Reading

Golden Chain 9303

On Lc 3,3-6


AMBROSE; The Word came, and the voice followed. For the Word first works inward, then follows the office of the voice, as it is said, And he went into all the country about Jordan.

ORIGEN; Jordan is the same as descending, for there descends from God a river of healing water. But what parts would John be traversing but the country lying about Jordan, that the penitent sinner might soon arrive at the flowing stream, humbling himself to receive the baptism of repentance. For it is added, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

GREG. It is plain to every reader that John not only preached the baptism of repentance, but to some also he gave it, yet his own baptism he could not give for the remission of sins.

CHRYS. For as the sacrifice had not yet been offered up, nor had the holy Spirit descended, how could remission of sins be given? What is it then that St. Luke means by the words, for the remission of sins, seeing the Jews were ignorant, and knew not the weight of their sins? Because this was the cause of their evils, in order that they might be convinced of their sins and seek a Redeemer, John came exhorting them to repentance, that being thereby made better and sorrowful for their sins, they might be ready to receive pardon. Rightly then after saying, that he came preaching the baptism of repentance, he adds, for the remission of sins. As if he should say, The reason by which he persuaded them to repent was, as, that thereby they would the more easily obtain despair. For the hill produces no fruit.

ORIGEN; Or you may understand the mountains and hills to be the hostile powers, which have been overthrown by the coming of Christ.

BASIL; But as the hills differ from mountains in respect of height, in other things are the same, so also the adverse powers agree indeed in purpose, but are distinguished from one another in the enormity of their offenses.

GREG. Or, the valley when filled increases, but the mountains and hills when brought low decrease, because the Gentiles by faith in Christ receive fullness of grace, but the Jews by their sin of treachery have lost that wherein they boasted. For the humble receive a gift because the hearts of the proud they keep afar off.

CHRYS. Or by these words he declares the difficulties of the law to be turned into the easiness of faith; as if he said, No more toils and labors await us, but grace and remission of sins make an easy way to salvation.

GREG. NYSS. Or, He orders the valleys to be filled, the mountains and hills to be cast down, to show that the rule of virtue neither fails from want of good, nor transgresses from excess.

GREG. But the crooked places are become straight, when the hearts of the wicked, perverted by a course of injustice, are directed to the rule of justice. But the rough ways are changed to smooth, when fierce and savage dispositions by the influence of Divine grace return to gentleness and meekness.

CHRYS. He then adds the cause of these things, saying, And all flesh shall see, &c. showing that the virtue and knowledge of the Gospel shall be extended even to the end of the world, turning mankind from savage manners and perverse wills to meekness and gentleness. Not only Jewish converts but all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

CYRIL; That is, of the Father, who sent His Son as our Savior. But the flesh is here taken for the whole man.

GREG. Or else, All flesh, i.e. Every man can not see the salvation of God in Christ in this life. The Prophet therefore stretches his eye beyond to the last day of judgment, when all men both the elect and the reprobate shall equally see Him.


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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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