|A snowy 47 Charissa Run|
"He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,and he will turn many of the children of Israelto the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijahto turn the hearts of fathers toward childrenand the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” Luke 1:15-17
These are the words of Gabriel to Zechariah announcing that in his their old age he and Elizabeth will have a son to be named John who will be essential to the coming of the Messiah. Zechariah cannot believe this and so is struck dumb until the circumcision of John. All this takes place in the Jerusalem Temple, the center and heart of Judaism.
John does indeed become a prophet calling the Jews of his time to turn from a life of disregard of Torah to a life of repentance and following the Law. Yet as we know from later passages in this and Matthew's gospel, John knew that he only prepared the way for the One who was to come. As important as conformance to the Torah was to John, he must have known that that conformance was just not enough, that as Paul understood, it simply was not enough even if it were possible to meet all the demands of the Law.
John seems to have own, or at least suspected, that his cousin Jesus was bringing a new and radically different message, a different "good news." Further he knew that the message of Jesus superseded his message and made it unnecessary. The message of Jesus did not focus on the Law or custom or even overt religious or ethical behavior. Jesus brought a message of "ontological change" through baptism and faith in the Divine One.
"Ontological" is a word that we rarely use because it deals with an understanding to which we rarely attend. Ontology is the study of being itself, not particular beings but the very essence and notion of "to be." Metaphysics is another word for it. Jesus didn't use words even remotely similar when he talked about his message and mission but Paul helped us understand that the message of Jesus brought about such a fundamental change in those who believed that they, in fact, became different in their very "beingness."
St. Paul expressed it almost lyrically when he proclaimed, "Now not I live but Christ lives in me!" This is so different from calling people to repentance for not living up to the Law that somehow John realized that his cousin was his Lord and that he was not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandal. And yet, John lyally continued his mission to prepare the way for one greater than he was, the one whose death and resurrection would change everything.
I am called to live out of this new reality of accepting my sonship of the Divine One. I know that things I do and say and think barely scratch the surface of this reality. Yet I am called to do the best I can and to, with John, prepare the way of the Lord.