sabato 16 dicembre 2017

«Ego vox»

On the last Sundays, we were saying that this year we will read the gospel of Mark, and today we have heard a selection from the gospel of John. The reason is that Mark is the shortest of the gospels, and so, on several occasions this year, the liturgy will supplement it with passages from John. Usually, scholars emphasize the differences between John and the synoptic gospels; but in this case we cannot but take note of the concordance between them.

If you remember, last Sunday, to introduce John the Baptist, Mark quoted a verse from Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” Today it is John the Baptist to identify himself using the same words of the prophet: “I am the voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”

Both Mark and John tell us that John the Baptist used to baptize. In both cases, to underline the superiority of Jesus, he says that his baptism is just a “baptism of water,” and then adds that he is not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals. It is interesting to notice that, while in Mark John the Baptist limits himself to say, “One mightier than I is coming after me,” in John he says, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.” Not only does the Baptist announce the future coming of Christ; he also points to him already present in the world. In my opinion, this is the greatest merit of John.

Today’s gospel refers to this important role of the Baptist when it says that he is a witness: “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.” Who is a witness? A person who sees something happen and is able to describe it to other people. In court there is need of witnesses, to find out the truth during a trial. Well, John the Baptist is the witness of Christ. The day after what is told in today’s gospel, John will say about Jesus: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain on him … I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn 1:32.34).

For the time being, John the Baptist prefers to bear a negative testimony about himself. He does not want to be confused with Jesus. So, he makes clear what he is not. First of all, he is not the Messiah, the king of Davidic descent who would restore the kingdom of Israel. Secondly, the Baptist denies being Elijah. If you remember, last Sunday we said that the Jews were waiting for the coming of Elijah as the precursor of the Messiah; and Jesus identified John with Elijah. But here John, with great humility, refuses even this role. Moreover, he excludes a third identification: he is not the Prophet. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses says: “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen” (Dt 18:15). Moses in not speaking of the Messiah, who will be a king; he is speaking of a prophet. And so, the Jews were waiting also for the coming of this prophet like Moses. The apostles will identify this prophet with Jesus (Acts 3:22).

But, if John is neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, who is he? It is at this point that the Baptist replies with the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” He is just one who paves the way for the Lord. But it is interesting that John says: “I am the voice (Ego vox).” Saint Augustine annotates on this point: “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that last for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.” Let us then listen to the voice which passes away, to keep the Word, who remains for ever (Is 40:8; 1Pt 1:25).