Read Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch... Read More…
Meet Sister Camilla Burns
Camilla Burns, SNDdeN is a Professor at Trinity Washington University. Prior to that she taught at Liverpool Hope University. Read More…
Of the four Evangelists, Luke portrays himself as a religious historian defined as one who puts history at the service of theology rather than making history an end in itself. We already know that John is born “in the days of King Herod of Judea’ (1:5), and Mary and Joseph set out for Bethlehem because of the census ordered by Emperor Augustus, “when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (2:1-2). While the details are far from precise, Luke is making a confession of faith: the events he narrates, though apparently small on the world stage – the birth of a son to a priest and barren wife, the fortunes of a pregnant young woman and her fiancé – are of global significance.
The same is true of today’s Gospel reading where Luke expands the historical setting to include both secular and religious leaders: Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, and Caiaphas. In contrast, John is insignificant: the son of a small town priest and more dramatically he is nowhere, out in the wilderness.
Luke does not emphasize John’s garb and diet but sees him as the last and culminating representative of the Old Testament prophets. He was of priestly lineage on both sides of his family (1:5), named by Gabriel as having the spirit and power of Elijah (1:17), and fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah (3: 4-6). In response, John plays two characteristically prophetic roles: He calls for repentance by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and foretells and prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah.
In this role, John becomes the hinge of history, drawing to a close the age of the law and the prophets and proclaiming the age of redemption, declared in the words of John’s father, “by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us…” (1:78) which is a cogent reminder that we are in the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.
Luke’s portrait of the seven leaders on the historical stage highlights his concern about the world of political, economic and religious powers. These are the very forces that will oppose Jesus and John. In the face of these authorities, John preaches repentance which means “to turn” and in so doing, threatens these powers because the people who turn toward the Lord will turn away from the authorities who reject Jesus. The dramatic tension eventually leads to the beheading of John and the death of Jesus but the resurrection of Jesus will shake the foundations of power.
Luke moves beyond locating the story of John and Jesus in world history to actually locating the history of the world in light of the story of John and Jesus. To those of us drawn into the story, Luke proclaims that although beset by the powerful of the world, we have been joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection and so we will also eventually triumph.
Luke’s bold reinterpretation of history extends to us in Isaiah, “all flesh” will “see the salvation of God” (3:6). Luke reaches across history to claim all readers who have put their faith in Jesus. For we who sit and listen to this reading about a nobody named John, gripped by the word of God in the nowhere of the wilderness, we also are included in the story of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.
We can readily think of world powers today who also oppose the kingdom of God anticipated by John, but perhaps it is a little more uneasy for us to think about the necessity to oppose the powers in our own lives which set self on a throne. This Gospel is a story about world powers without and disordered powers within that prohibit the peaceable rule of God. Advent is the time to “turn” away from those unbalanced powers and invite God into our lives in a new way. Take courage from the words of Paul to the Philippians, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (1: 6).