The Witness of John the Baptist - John 1:19-28
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said." Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
The Preaching of John the Baptist
Like many a prophet before him, John warned his listeners against a smug contentment in their status as Jews. Trust in their descent from Abraham will not save them (Mt.3:9). The only thing that matters is personal repentance from sin, a change of life that is expressed in action, “fruits” (Mt.3:8) and John’s once and for all baptism.
There was an urgency to convert. Already, the fabric of their life was under threat, "Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees" (Mt.3:10). The earth has been cleared away; the roots are exposed, ready for the stroke of the clearer’s axe. He spoke about the imminence of a fiery judgement before which the brood of vipers are in flight. The image is that of a bush fire causing the reptiles to flee. Behind the image is the holiness of God recoiling from all that is wrong and evil in Israelite life.
John was aware that he was not the one who would make the final separation of the good from the bad, the grain from the chaff, in God’s people. He knew of someone greater than him coming after him (Mt.3:11-12) who will pour out God’s spirit and purify a reformed people (Mt.3:11). Even though he was stern and unbending, his demands were not outrageous. He did not ask people to radically change their life-styles and follow him into the desert but rather be generous, honest and dutiful in their chosen ways of life. He exhorted the crowds to share their possessions with the less fortunate; he advised the soldiers to be content with their pay and the tax-collectors to collect only what is their due. (Lk.3:10-14)
This is the Story of Jesus drawn from the four Evangelists
Gospel passages accompanied by a number of brief commentaries