Prepare the Way

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests
and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
He said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”

as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,
where John was baptizing.
(John 1:6-8, 19-26)

Scripture Study

1:6 A man named John Introduces John the Baptist as the messenger sent by God to announce the coming of His salvation into the world through Jesus. John was the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah (see Mal 4:5–6; compare Matt 11:9).

1:7 came for testimony John’s mission is articulated in legal terms; he is a witness coming to testify. The imagery also is used in Isaiah, where God’s people testify to His sovereignty (see Isa 43:10; 44:8).

1:19 the Jews Refers to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. John often uses this label to categorize those who are opposed to Jesus and His ministry (e.g., John 5:16; 11:57). While the term can be used in a neutral or even a positive sense (e.g., 2:6; 4:22), the prevailing connotation with the expression is “unbelieving Jews. Who are you John answers their real question, “Are you the Messiah?” His answer indicates that their question was centered on their OT messianic expectations.

1:20 I am not the Messiah The Greek word used here, christos (meaning “anointed one”), is equivalent to the Hebrew term mashiach, meaning “Messiah.” John the Baptist is explicitly denying that he is the Messiah, but their questioning continues through multiple layers of Jewish messianic expectation.

1:21 Are you Elijah The prophet Elijah’s miraculous ascent into heaven on a fiery divine chariot (2 Kgs 2:11) fueled the belief that he would return as a forerunner of the Messiah. The OT explicitly attests to this expectation in Mal 4:5. I am not John’s denial of the role of Elijah as forerunner of the Messiah likely reflects either his historical perspective on his ministry or an avoidance of traditional labels. The Synoptic Gospels explicitly connect John the Baptist with the expected coming of Elijah (see Matt 11:11–14; Luke 1:17). Are you the Prophet This line of questioning reflects the varying categories of messianic expectation in the Second Temple period. Since John denied being the Messiah or his forerunner, Elijah, he is asked whether he is the prophet Moses predicted in Deut 18:15–18. John disclaims this role as well, showing complete humility in his calling. He understands that his office is to point to the Messiah and lead people to repent.

1:23 one crying out John identifies himself by quoting Isa 40:3. All four Gospels apply this Scripture to John the Baptist, but John’s Gospel is the only one that puts the quote on the lips of John the Baptist himself (compare Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4).

1:24 Pharisees A Jewish lay movement of experts in the interpretation of the law.

1:25 why then do you baptize They ask John by what authority he has taken it upon himself to baptize Jews. Washing with water was a common practice in Jewish ritual purification, but baptism was associated with the conversion of Gentiles.

Scripture Reflection

Friends, today’s Gospel presents John the Baptist as the messenger preparing the way for Jesus. John speaks: “I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.’” He is saying that his job is to prepare for the mighty coming of the Lord. He is to build the highway that will facilitate his arrival. A change is coming, a revolution is on the way, a disaster (the destruction of the old) is about to happen. Prepare the way of the Lord.

And what is the manner of preparation? It is a baptism of repentance. Baptism—an immersion in water—reminded first-century Jews of the exodus, passing through the Red Sea, leaving the ways of slavery behind. God would humble the powers of their time as he once humbled Egypt and Babylon.

And repentance? It simply means going beyond the mind that you have. How our minds are conditioned by the fallen world! How our expectations are shaped, stunted by what has gone before. It’s time, John is saying, for a new mind, a new set of eyes, a new kind of expectation.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.