The following is a commentary by one of the Province’s simply professed friars on the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Advent (Mt 3, 1-2).
St. John the Baptist is the main character of the Gospel reading on this Second Sunday of Advent. John is preaching in the desert of Judea, on the east side of the Jordan River. He strategically locates himself in this place because the desert and the river reminded Israel of the exodus, their pass from slavery to freedom. John is the precursor of a new exodus guided by Jesus. People come to John and he teaches them two things: conversion and baptism. These are major themes during Advent.
Even when in the English version of this Gospel passage we find the word “repentance”, the original word the evangelist uses is “metanoia,” which is translated as “conversion.” John the Baptist uses this word up to three times in this passage, so maybe he is trying to tell us something important.
Metanoia (or conversion) literally means “going beyond of what I know,” specifically, “to go beyond of what I think I know” about me, about others and about life. It requires us to think outside of the box, to expand our vision, to leave behind our assumptions, preconceptions, prejudices, and biases, in order to encounter and to love people the way they are and not the way we want them to be.
Conversion is also proactive; it requires a sincere and profound personal and communitarian examination. For instance, think about what are you doing with all the resources and blessings and talents you have received from God. Each one of us has something to contribute to this world. What is going to be your contribution?
We see how John asks people to convert because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is a metaphor for a new way of life inspired and guided by practical love, because God is Love (1 Jn 4:8). Indeed, this kingdom is “at hand” for those who decide to use their personal and material resources to do good to others as much and as better as possible.
Once we enter into this process of conversion, John also reminds us that we must not take things for granted, especially our religious affiliation. For instance, Sadducees and Pharisees belonged to different religious and political parties; their doctrines and practices differed in essential points, and yet the Baptist reminded them (and us) that what is important is not as much what they believe but what they do: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your conversion,” because conversion, when it is true, inevitably produces good deeds and good fruits for all.
Finally, John announces that Jesus is coming “to baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Baptism was a rite of total immersion in water that included renunciation to a personal past of injustice. “To baptize with the Holy Spirit” means everyone is infused and impregnated inside out with the power of the Spirit. We know very well the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5: 22-23). All of them help us to build the kingdom of God.
What are you going to do to prepare the way of the Lord? In other words, what are the good works and the good fruits of conversion you are going to produce this Advent to celebrate the coming of Jesus?
— Javier is studying sacred scripture at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Before joining Holy Name Province, he worked in organization and human development, coaching corporate businesses for 15 years for Fortune 500 companies in the Americas and South Korea. He also founded and directed the Center for Biblical Studies “Xaire.”