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The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

Matthew 3:1-12 – The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

 

stjbgpaintAt the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist introduces Jesus, proclaiming the coming of the kingdom, in exactly the words which Jesus himself will later use: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ (see 4:17). This prophet, dressed like Elijah, calls for repentance: a response to God’s action by a change in heart and mind and a consequent change in life-style. 

But the Baptist does not appear upon the scene proclaiming repentance upon his own authority. He makes his appeal under the authority of the word of God. Already the Prophet Isaiah had spoken of his voice, ‘crying in the wilderness.’ Fulfilling God’s design, as indicated by the prophecy of Isaiah, the Baptist attacks the traditional ways to God, those represented by the major religious institutions of Israel: the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The Pharisees took the Law to synagogues wherever there were Jews. The Sadducees offering sacrifices at the one temple in Jerusalem. Neither of these ways to God is satisfactory. Like all the prophets before him, John the Baptist attacks the insidious wickedness that false religious practice produces. 

The institutes of Israel are attacked because they were not bearing the fruit which a true relationship with God will always produce. They act on the belief that they have a special place in God’s hierarchy because of their link with Abraham. Blood ties are not the basis of oneness with God. As the Gospel of Matthew will show God can turn stones into children and Gentiles into disciples.

Despite his exalted role as the precursor of the Messiah, John concludes his witness by humbly subordinating his work and his person to Jesus. The baptism of John is only a material rite leading to repentance, while Jesus will plunge us into the fiery experience of God’s Holy Spirit. The one who follows John is, strangely, the stronger of the two. Normally the Master leads and ‘the one who follows’ learns. Here the roles are reversed. The one who is to come is the Master, whose sandals the slave is not even worthy to carry.

The Church’s use of John the Baptist over the Advent season invites us to join John’s audience in these days of preparation. In this ‘in between time’ we are already gifted with the presence of Christ, but does that influence our lives in any real and effective way? We too are waiting for the Christ who is to come. What will be our response at his coming, both at Christmas and at the end of time?

(Adapted from This is the Gospel of the Lord – Year A, by Francis J. Moloney, pages 64-65)

  

Matthew 3:1-12

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”