THE GOSPEL. S. John 1. 19
THIS is the record of John, when the Jews sent Priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that Prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not: he it is who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Each of the Gospel writers have the common element of the ministry of St. John Baptist. We should of course note that St. John was not a Baptist. From the Greek, it is most appropriately “John the Baptizer.” It simply refers to the fact that he baptized in the River Jordan.
This Gospel passage is the account of St. John and he chooses to focus on the identity of this man. St. Matthew and St. Luke have the phrase “Brood of Vipers,” which is one possibility for why they are interrogating him so in this passage. The Jewish leaders are trying to save face. Another possibility is that St. John Baptist is being rebuked for having an unauthorized Mikveh, which is where we get the idea of baptism.
However, we will focus on St. John’s account. The Jewish leaders ask St. John Baptist if he is a series of these people. The first is Elias, which is more commonly Elijah. Now, why did they think this? Well, it was a theology that is actually common today in Judaism which is that Elijah will return and usher in the messianic era. So, they were asking him this question. Then, they ask if he that prophet? What is this referring to in terms of biblical theology? It is of course referring to the prophet which was prophesised who would be like Moses, Meshiach (one who is like Moses). So, they are asking if he is the Messiah.
This is very pertinent in Johannine Writings because we see the Last Gospel is immeidately preceding this passage that we see today. The Last Gospel, sometimes referred to as the Prologue of John, refers to St. John Baptist as the one who came to bear witness of the Light but was in fact not that Light. St. John the Evangelist is very clear that St. John Baptist was not that light but came to bear witness of the Light. He was not the messiah. So, the Gospel passage we have today shows very clearly that they did not understand that St. John Baptist was not the Light, so they were in spiritual darkness. This is made clear at their “shot in the dark” questioning that we discussed above.
The message of Advent is that we are in spiritual darkness. Just as the Jewish leaders were unclear as to who John was, we are often lost in our search for the Messiah. We put our trust in people who we perceive to be our messiah because we are wanting to blame them or to put our faith in them completely. We can often get lost because we live in spiritual darkness, but when we fix our eyes on Christ we are living in the Light. The message of the Gospel is that we are all in the dark and not knowing our way until we see that light in the midst of the darkness. We have only one hope for salvation and that is Christ.
Fr. Brandon Cribbs