3rd Sunday of Advent - meditation
The following are excerpts from a meditation by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pontifical Household preacher, as found on zenit.org:
The most complete text in which Jesus reflects on his relationship to John the Baptist is the Gospel passage that the liturgy has us read next Sunday at Mass. John, in prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus: "Are you the one who must come or should we wait for another?" (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:19-23).
The preaching of the Rabbi of Nazareth whom he himself had baptized and presented to Israel seems to John to go in a very different direction from the fiery one that he had expected. More than the imminent judgment of God, he preaches the mercy that is present, offered to all, righteous and sinners.
The most significant part of the whole text is the praise that Jesus offers of John after he had answered the question posed by John's disciples: "Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet [...]. Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear" (Matthew 11:11-15).
One thing is made plain by these words: Between the mission of John the Baptist and that of Jesus something so decisive has happened that it constitutes a parting of the waters, so to speak, between two epochs. The focus of history has shifted: That which is important is not in a more or less imminent future but "here and now," that kingdom that is already operative in Christ. Between John's preaching and the preaching of Jesus there is a qualitative leap: The littlest one of the new order is superior to the greatest one of the old order.
The occurrence of this epochal turning point is confirmed in many other contexts in the Gospel. We only need recall such words of Jesus as: "Behold, there is one here greater than Jonah. [...] Behold, there is one here greater than Solomon!" (Matthew 12:41-42). "Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear. Truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see and did not see it, and longed to hear what you hear and did not hear it!" (Matthew 13:16-17). All of the so-called parables of the kingdom -- one thinks of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price -- at bottom express the same idea, always in a new and different way: With Jesus, history's decisive hour has struck, in his presence the decision that determines salvation imposes itself.
It was this claim that brought Bultmann's disciples to break with the master. Bultmann included Jesus in Judaism, making him a premise of Christianity but not yet a Christian; he attributed the great turning point to the faith of the post-Easter community. Bornkamm and Conzelmann realized the impossibility of this thesis: The "epochal turning point" already happened in Jesus' preaching. John belonged to the premises and the preparation, but with Jesus we are already in the time of fulfillment.
In his book "Jesus of Nazareth," the Holy Father confirms this conclusion of the most serious and up-to-date exegesis. He writes: "For such a radical collision to occur, provoking the radical step of handing Jesus over to the Romans, something dramatic must have been said or done. The great and stirring events come right at the beginning; the nascent Church could only slowly come to appreciate their full significance, which she came to grasp as, in 'remembering' them, she gradually thought through and reflected on these events [...]. No, the greatness, the dramatic newness, comes directly from Jesus; within the faith and life of the community it is further developed, but not created. In fact, the 'community' would not have even emerged or survived at all unless some extraordinary reality had preceded it."
In Luke's theology it is evident that Jesus occupies the "center of time." With his coming he divided history in two parts, creating an absolute "before" and "after." Today it is becoming common practice, especially in the secular media, to abandon the traditional way of dating events "before Christ" or "after Christ" ("ante Christum natum e post Christum natum") in favor of the more neutral formula of "before the common era" and "common era." It was a decision motivated by a desire not to offend the sensibilities of people and other religions who do not use Christian chronology; in that regard it should be respected, but for Christians there is no question of the decisive role that Christ's coming plays in the religious history of humanity.