If the backdrop to last Sunday’s gospel was the presence of the political and religious powers of the time, today it is the turn of the ordinary people who come to John the Baptist. John tailors his response to each group. When the crowd ask the question, “What must we do then?” John calls them to perform the very basic necessity of sharing what they have, especially in the area of food and clothing. Specific groups, like the tax collectors are expected to stick to the required rate of payment, while soldiers are likewise not to practise extortion but to be content with their pay. It is easy enough for us to apply John’s answer to our own situations, especially when the needs of refugees are calling on all of us today to share what we have, or those with jobs being encouraged not to be selfish in their demands for preferential treatment.
The second part of the gospel has a sense of expectancy about it: the people are expecting the Messiah and begin to wonder if perhaps John might be he. He quickly scotches that idea, showing that his role instead is one of preparing for the coming of the Messiah. The first reading of the day, from the prophet Zephaniah, speaks of the joy of that coming into the midst of Israel. This is a passage often used for an understanding of the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of Mary, as the icon portrays; the psalm takes up that notion by saying: “for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Our response, the second reading tells us, is “to be happy… for the Lord is very near.”
Sr Celine Mangan O.P