12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 24, 2018
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John."
But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What then will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.
John was a towering figure of conversion and his preaching about it bordered on insult, harsh invectives and threats. His teaching created a climate of fear on those who were guilty and hope on those who believed. His denunciations were strong that he formed a circle of enemies that eventually had him silenced.
John preached repentance and it meant the conversion (reform) of Israel (Mt. 3:2). Conversion was not only on the personal and spiritual levels but also on the communal and the societal aspects of Israelite society, religion and government. (Comparable to B. Lonergan's intellectual, moral, and religious conversions.) The message of John was a call for radical transformation, a change on the personal and social levels of human life. His external appearance and lifestyle manifested the elements of radical change as he survived on honey and wore camel's hair styling him symbolically after the Old Testament figures (Samuel, Elijah) who followed the tradition of resistance and a revolutionary model of renewing society.
If the message of John was already strong, the tension created by his language contributed more to its biting strength. He called the priestly elite- the Pharisees and Sadducees - the honorable people of society as "brood of vipers". It is said that this expression was meant to disrobe the priestly elite with honor for their deeds that heavily burdened the people with economic problems and social ills. The priests were in cahoots with the Roman patrons.
How are we to appropriate the political color of John's message? Isn't the message of repentance a scary one since we need to change not only our ways but also encourage or exhort others to lead righteous lives? Isn't it scary since the conversion must happen not only in a day (day of confession) or season or for a few months but it should happen during our lifetime? Charity is a sweet kind of kindness but Mother Teresa once mentioned that to remove the root cause of material poverty is easier than to eradicate spiritual poverty. Because people feel they don't need God, they don't need the human words of care and concern; they see only their self-sufficiency, they see only their own survival. This attitude creates values or movements like globalization and secularization and are imbibed by some communities and institutions that make people's lives harder. This is where the radical call to conversion finds its meaning. We are called to carry out the task of conversion in the arena of human behavior that seeks to chart the common good. This is what John became and it led to his death.
by Fr. Joseph Miras SVD