2nd Sun C Advent
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
While in the Gospel of Luke there is an extended introduction to the person of John the Baptist, here in Matthew’s Gospel, he appears dramatically, out of the blue, preparing the way of the Lord. The very manner in which he is introduced is significant – in his dress and food, the reader recognises him as a prophet, especially akin to Elijah who confronted Israel when it had fallen into apostasy.
Three times in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, a term for ‘repentance’ is used, playing a crucial role in this part of the Gospel. Indeed, John’s first sentence, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,’ will be the first words used by Jesus when he begins his preaching ministry after his period of trial in the wilderness. Unfortunately, the word ‘repent’ in English has connotations of sinners turning away from a dissolute lifestyle to one of virtue. The Greek term is far more subtle and challenging, as indeed we shall see when John directs it to the Sadducees and Pharisees. The word ‘repent’ means ‘change of mind and heart’ with overtones of thinking carefully over one’s life and changing those areas that are sinful. Obviously this would include gross moral failure, but the way John attacks, yes attacks, the religious leaders that come to him, forces us to widen its use to include faulty religious attitudes. The Sadducees and the Pharisees belonged to two differing theological groups in Jesus’ time and could be said to represent two extremes, yet they had certain failures in common. Firstly, they are both are criticised for putting their faith in lineal descent from Abraham. Secondly, a religious life is only true when it produces fruit. In the prophetic tradition, this would mean mercy, justice, generosity to the poor etc. – not religious practices as such. Thirdly, the images of cutting down the tree and threshing wheat are apocalyptic images of the Last Times. There was a great deal of speculation of when and how this would take place in current theological discussion. John sees this as useless unless it gives a sense of urgency to reforming one’s behaviour in the present. Tribal allegiance, religious practices, theological discussion – they have their place in the life of faith – but they are not what religion is about. Rather it is the slow, subtle transformation of mind, heart and life into the ways of God.