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To: All

From: Romans 15:4-9

The Example of Christ (Continuation)

[4] For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,
that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might
have hope. [5] May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to
live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, [6] that
together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus

[7] Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the
glory of God. [8] For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the
circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises
given to the patriarchs, [9] and in order that the
Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I
will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name".


4. The excellence of Scripture and its sacred character derive from the fact
that God is its author. This means that there is a consistency and unity
running right through Sacred Scripture, a coherence which integrates both
Testaments, Old and New: the Old Testament contains--prophetically and by
way of prefigurement--what happens in the New; and in the New the prophecy
and prefigurement of the Old are fulfilled. Since Scripture is the word of
God, it is of the highest order: "All scripture is inspired by God and
profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in
righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good
work" (2 Tim 3:16). This strength and authority of Scripture is useful not
only for instruction in the faith but also for enlivening our hope and
consoling us in every kind of trial, interior and exterior: the examples
which we find in Scripture encourage us to be patient and also spur us on to
fight. By reflecting on those examples we become convinced that if God asks
sacrifice of "his own", he does so because he has a greater reward in store
for them.

These truths led the Second Vatican Council to teach that in "the sacred
books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and
talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it
can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the
Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and
lasting fount of spiritual life" ("Dei Verbum", 21).

8-13. "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you.
Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life,
behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us" (Acts
13:46-47): this is what Paul and Barnabas said to Jews who opposed their
preaching. Christ himself said that he had been sent only to seek out the
lost sheep of the house of Israel, and that was the scope of the Apostles'
first mission (cf. Mt 15:24; 10:5). However, God's plans never discriminated
in favor of the Jews: they, once converted, were to preach the Good News to
the Gentiles. After the Resurrection, Jesus sent his disciples to all
nations (cf. Mt 28:18ff). Those who proclaimed the Gospel were Jews who had
accepted Christ, and they addressed their preaching first to Jews and then
to Gentiles.

This present passage refers to the fulfillment of God's designs through
Christ. By becoming man God made good his promises to the Jews, kept faith
with them. By the entry of the Gentiles into the Church his mercy towards
all men is revealed, for his blessings are thereby extended to those who do
not belong to Israel according to the flesh. Our Lord explained this very
graphically in the parable of the two sons (Mt 21 :28- 32). He first calls
the older son (the Gentiles), who refuses to obey him and afterwards repents
and accepts his father's invitation and goes to work in the vineyard. The
younger son (most of the Jewish people), on the other hand, seems to be
ready to do his father's bidding but in fact does not. Many Jews were so
hard of heart that not even the repentance and conversion of the Gentiles
moved them to repent.

Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text
taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries
made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of
Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock,
Co. Dublin, Ireland.

4 posted on 12/05/2004 7:45:05 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: All

From: Matthew 3:1-12

The Preaching of John the Baptist

[1] ln those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of
Judea, [2] "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." [3] For this is he
who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice ofone
crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths

[4] Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his
waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. [5] Then went out to him
Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, [6] and they
were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

[7] But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism,
he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath
to come? [8] Bear fruit that befits repentance, [9] and do not presume to
say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father' ; for I tell you, God is
able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.' [10] Even now the
axe is laid to 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 he who is coming after me
is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. [12] His winnowing fork is in his
hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the
granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."


1. The expression "in those days" does not specify the exact time of the
event in question. It is someti mes used merely as an opening phrase to mark
the beginning of a new episode. In this case, in fact, it can be calculated
that some twenty-five years have elapsed since the Holy Family's return from
Egypt. This is only an estimate, because the exact date of their return has
not been established.

On the date of the start of John the Baptist's preaching, see Luke 3:1-3.
The word "wilderness" has a wider meaning here than we give it today. It
does not refer to a sandy or rocky desert, but rather to arid regions, low
in vegetation.

2. "Repent": Christ's redeeming work ushers in a new era in the Kingdom of
God. This brings such advance in salvation history, that what is required
from now on is a radical change in man's behavior towards God. The coming of
the Kingdom means that God has intervened in a special way to save mankind,
but it also implies that we must be open to God's grace and reform our ways.
Christ's life on earth compels peopl e to take a stand--either for God or
against him ("He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not
gather with me scatters": Lk 11:23). Given man's sinful state after original
sin, the newly-arrived Kingdom requires that all men repent of their past
life. To put it another way, they have to stop going away from God and
instead try to get closer to him. Since sin hinders this conversion, it is
impossible to turn back to God without performing acts of penance.
Conversion is not simply a question of making a good resolution to mend our
ways; we have to fulfill that resolution, even if we find it difficult.
Penance grows only where there is humility--and everyone should admit
sincerely that he is a sinner (cf. 1 Jn 1 :8-10). Obedience also goes hand
in hand with penance; everyone ought to obey God and keep his commandments
(cf. 1 Jn 2:3-6).

The literal translation of the Greek is "Repent". But precisely because the
very essence o f conversion consists in doing penance, as we have said, the
New Vulgate has "paenitentiam agite" ("do penance"). This translation
conveys the deeper meaning of the text.

Man's whole life, in fact, consists in constantly correcting his behavior,
and therefore implies a continual doing of penance. This turning back to God
was preached continually by the prophets in the Old Testament. Now, however,
with the coming of Christ, this penance and turning to God are absolutely
essential. That Christ took on our sins and suffered for us does not excuse
us from making a true conversion; on the contrary, it demands it of us (cf.
Col 1:24).

"Kingdom of heaven": this expression is identical to "Kingdom of God". The
former is the one most used by St Matthew, and is more in line with the
Jewish turn of phrase. Out of reverence, the Jews avoided pronouncing the
name of God and substituted other words for it, as in this case. "Kingdom of
God" o r "Kingdom of heaven" was a concept used already in the Old Testament
and in religious circles at the time of Christ. But it occurs particularly
frequently in Jesus' preaching.

The phrase "Kingdom of God" can refer in a general way to God's dominion
over creatures; but normally, as in this text, it refers to God's sovereign
and merciful involvement in the life of his people. Man's rebellion and sin
broke the order originally established in creation. To re-establish it,
God's intervention was needed again; this consisted in the redeeming work of
Christ, Messiah and Son of God. It was preceded by a series of preliminary
stages in salvation history throughout the Old Testament.

Consequently, the Kingdom of God, announced as imminent by John the Baptist,
is brought into being by Jesus. However, this is an entirely spiritual one
and does not have the nationalistic dimension expected by Jesus'
contemporaries. He comes to save his people and all mankind from the slavery
of sin, from death and from the devil, thereby opening up the way of

In the period between the first and second comings of Christ, this Kingdom
of God (or Kingdom of heaven) is, in fact, the Church. The Church makes
Christ (and therefore also God) present among all peoples and calls them to
eternal salvation. The Kingdom of God will be brought to completion only at
the end of this world, that is, when our Lord comes to judge the living and
the dead at the end of time. Then God will reign over the blessed in a
perfect way.

In the passage we are considering, John the Baptist, the last of the Old
Testament prophets, preaches the imminence of the Kingdom of God, ushered in
by the coming of the Messiah.

3. By quoting Isaiah 40:3, St Matthew makes it clear that St John the
Baptist has a mission as a prophet. This mission has two purposes--first, to
prepare the people to receive the Kingdom of God; second, to testify before
the people that Jesus is the Messiah who is bringing that Kingdom.

4. The Gospel gives a brief outline of the extremely austere life of St John
the Baptist. His style of life is in line with that of certain Old Testament
prophets and is particularly reminiscent of Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 1:8;
2:8-13ff.). The kind of food and dress described are of the most rudimentary
for the region in question. The locust was a kind of grasshopper; the wild
honey probably refers
to substances excreted by certain local shrubs rather than to bees' honey.
In view of the imminent coming of the Messiah, John underlines, with his
example, the attitude of penance preceding great religious festivals
(similarly, in its Advent liturgy the Church puts John before us as a model
and invites us to practise mortification and penance). In this way, the
point made in the previous verse (concerning John's view of his mission as
precursor of Christ) is fulfilled. A Christian's entire life is a
preparation for his meeting with Christ. Consequently, mortification and
penance play a significant part in his life.

6. John's baptism did not have the power to cleanse the soul from sin as
Christian Baptism does. The latter is a sacrament, a sign, which produces
the grace it signifies. Concerning the value of John's baptism, see the note
on Mt 3:11.

7. St John reproaches the Pharisees and Sadducees for their attitude towards
him. His preaching and baptism are not simply one more purification rite.
Rather, they demand a true interior conversion of the soul, as a necessary
predisposition to reach the grace of faith in Jesus. In the light of this
explanation, we can understand why the prophetic words of St John the
Baptist were so hard-hitting; as it turned out, most of these people did not
accept Jesus as the Messiah.

"Pharisees": these constituted the most important religious group in Jesus''
time. They kept the Law of Moses rigorously and also the oral traditions
which had built up around it. They gave as much importance to these latter,
indeed, as to the Law itself. They strongly opposed the influence of Greek
paganism and totally rejected the homage paid to the Roman emperor. Among
them there were men of great spiritual eminence and sincere piety; but there
were many others who exaggerated pharisaical religiosity to the extreme of
fanaticism, pride and hypocrisy. It was this perversion of the true
Israelite religion that John the Baptist (and later our Lord) castigated.

"Sadducees": the Sadducees constituted a smaller religious group than the
Pharisees, but they included many influential people, most of them from the
main priestly families. They accepted the written Law, but, unlike the
Pharisees, they rejected oral tradition. They also rejected certain
important truths, such as the resurrection of the dead.
On the political front, they went along easily with the terms dictated by
the Romans, and they acquiesced in the introduction of pagan customs into
the country .Their opposition to Christ was even more pronounced than that
of the Pharisees.

9-10. St John the Baptist's listeners believe their salvation is assured
because they are descendants of Abraham according to the flesh. But St John
" warns them that to pass God's judgment it is not enough to belong to the
chosen people; they must also yield the good fruit of a holy life. If they
fail to do this, they will be thrown into the fire, that is, into hell, the
eternal punishment, because they did not do penance for their sins. See the
note on Mt 25:46.

11. St John the Baptist did not limit himself to preaching penance and
repentance; he encouraged people to receive his baptism. This baptism was a
way of interiorly preparing them and helping them to realize that the coming
of Chris t was imminent. By his words of encouragement and by their humble
recognition of their sins, they were prepared to receive Christ's grace
through Baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit. To put it another way, John's
baptism did not produce justification, whereas Christian Baptism is the
sacrament of initiation which forgives sin and bestows sanctifying grace.
The effectiveness of the sacrament of Christian Baptism is expressed in
Catholic teaching when it says that the sacrament gives grace "ex opere
operato". This means that grace is given by virtue of Christ who acts
through the sacrament, and not by virtue of the merits of either the
minister or the recipient of the sacrament. "When Peter baptizes, it is
Christ who baptizes [...]. When Judas baptizes, it is Christ who baptizes"
(St Augustine, "ln loann. Evang.", 6).

The word "fire" points in a metaphorical way to the effectiveness of the
Holy Spirit's action in totally wiping out sins. It also shows the
life-giving power of grace in the person baptized.

Foremost among the personal qualities of St John the Baptist is his
remarkable humility; he resolutely rejects the temptation of accepting the
dignity of Messiah which the crowds apparently wanted to bestow on him.
Carrying the sandals of one's master was a job for the lowest of servants.

12. Verses 10 and 12 refer to judgment by the Messiah. This judgment has two
parts: the first occurs throughout each man's life and ends in the
Particular Judgment immediately after death; the second occurs at the time
of the Last Judgment. Christ is the judge in both instances. Let us remember
the words of St Peter in Acts 10:42: "And he commanded us to preach to the
people, and to testify that he [Jesus] is the one ordained by God to be
judge of the living and the dead." The judgment will give to each person the
reward or punishment merited by his good or bad actions.

It is w orth noting that the word "chaff' does not refer only to bad deeds;
it refers also to useless ones, for example, lives lacking in service to God
and men. God will judge us, therefore, for our omissions and our lost

"Don't let your life be barren. Be useful. Make yourself felt. Shine forth
with the torch of your faith and your love. With your apostolic life, wipe
out the trail of filth and slime left by the unclean sowers of hatred. And
set aflame all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you bear
in your heart" ([St] J. Escriva, "The Way", 1).

Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text
taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries
made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of
Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock,
Co. Dublin, Ireland.

5 posted on 12/05/2004 7:46:36 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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