Isaiah 11: 1 - 10
Romans 15: 4 - 9
Matthew 3: 1 - 12
Explanatory Note :
The rite instituted by John and that which constitutes his principal activity (and gives him his name, the Baptist) aims at a radical change of life on the part of the baptized person. It is the first step towards the long-awaited liberation. The descent into the water symbolizes the birth of a different being committed to a process of conversion. Baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus, Christian baptism, also implies a change of life, but the purifying agent is the Breath, the Spirit, put into action by Jesus. By baptism, we become like Christ, plunged in his death and resurrection, made a child of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19 speaks of a baptism whose source is the Passion of Jesus, a baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. The Trinity takes possession of the baptized person
John arises in the Judean desert. His costume recalls the ancient prophets, in particular Elias (cf. 2 Kings 1, 8) whose return according to Jewish tradition (cf. Ml 3, 23), was the prelude to a divine intervention. He draws people to himself for baptism, a rite of conversion. He is the voice which announces a new Exodus through the desert (Is. 40 :3). He baptizes in the Jordan, a river with symbolic overtones, for crossing it marked entrance into the Promised Land (cf. Joshua 3, 14-17). Israel had been born in the desert at the time of the Exodus, then there was a new Exodus when the people returned from Exile. Now, heeding the prophet, it is necessary to be reborn and to prepare the royal coming of God. Jesus, moreover, will give the example by receiving Johns baptism and going to the desert.
John issues a call to conversion for the Kingdom is at hand. Then, he addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees with a certain hardness: generation of vipers, he calls them, using an expression meaning a mouth from which can come only poison. There are two parts to his sermon.
First, he exhorts them to produce good fruit, fruits which express conversion. To be converted is to do something. It is not just thinking and talking about God; it means doing Gods will and thus becoming children of Abraham, true disciples. In his first discourse, Jesus takes up the image of the good and bad trees (7, 15-20) : a gift is judged by it fruits rather than its appearance. It is conformity to the will of the Father that is the measure of the true disciple. To the idea of a baptism that would save automatically, John proposes an effective conversion.
Secondly, he declares that his baptism is only a preparation. He heralds the one who comes after him. John presents himself humbly saying that he is not worthy to undo the sandals of Jesus, a gesture that a disciple was not obliged to accomplish for his master even though he was expected to do all that servants[slaves] did. He proclaims that Jesus will baptize in the Spirit and fire. His baptism of water is only a rite of purification which should be accompanied by a change in comportment. It is also the implicit consent to the judgment of God of our life and our choices. The images of winnowing and destructive fire recall the judgment of God (cf. Jer. 13, 24 ; Ezek. 21, 36-37 ; Hosea 9, 1-2 ; Micha 4, 11-13). The judgment introduced by the Messiah is a radical condemnation of evil that is unmasked and a radical purification of the conscience.
Lord, grant that we may live a faith that is a real commitment, a constant effort to live in truth before you. Open our mouths so that no poison may come from them but words of praise and blessing which sing what your coming accomplishes for all of humanity.
—Sophie Ramond, R.A.