BE A FORERUNNER OF CHRIST
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ECCLESIASTICUS 48:1-4, 9-11; MATTHEW 17:10-13 ]
In the responsorial psalm, the psalmist expresses our cry to the Lord to come and save us. “O shepherd of Israel, hear us, shine forth from your cherubim throne. O Lord, rouse up your might, O Lord, come to our help. God of hosts, turn again, we implore, look down from heaven and see. Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has planted.” Indeed, many are seeking to see the Lord and His mercy. “Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.” We recognize our misery and our emptiness in life. We know that we are seeking the face of God so that we can find real happiness. The book of Sirach remarks, “Happy shall they be who see you, and those who have fallen asleep in love.”
How can this prayer be fulfilled today? The truth is that Christ has already come but many do not recognize Him. Christ in His incarnation has shown us the face of God by His life, teaching, miracles and most of all, the greatest miracle of His passion, death and resurrection. Jesus told Philip who too wanted to see the face of the Father, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (Jn 14:9-10)
Of course, this is not surprising because even the Jews did not recognize the prophets when they came, and least of all, the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist. Instead, they found excuses to reject Him and yet pretended to wait for the return of Elijah as prophesied in Malachi, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:5f) The truth is that he has already come in the person of John the Baptist. This was what Jesus said, “True, Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.”
Like Elijah, John the Baptist preached boldly in his message of repentance. Indeed, Elijah was one of the greatest prophets, “How glorious you were in your miracles, Elijah! Has anyone reason to boast as you have? – taken up in the whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses; designated in the prophecies of doom to allay God’s wrath before the fury breaks, to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.” John the Baptist was sent to do the same thing, to prepare the Way for the Lord to come by asking the people to repent of their sins.
Why is it that the world could not recognize Jesus when He came and cannot recognize Him even today? There are three reasons why the world cannot recognize the presence of the Messiah in our midst. Firstly, many are wounded by life’s tragedies, failures in life, broken relationships, financial difficulties and sicknesses. When we face so much pain and suffering in life, we wonder whether God is with us and whether He truly loves us because if He did, He would have come to our rescue. There are some too who are deeply wounded by the Church, especially religious leaders and also fellow Catholics. They cannot accept that in a family of God, they could be treated in that manner without compassion and justice. Finally, many are misled by the illusions of the world and the worldly lifestyle of pleasure, power, materialism, relativism and egoism that is being promoted. As a consequence, they are led deeper into sin, darkness, addictions, slavery and hopelessness.
So how can we help them if not by being a forerunner like Elijah and John the Baptist? We must be fired up by being the torch of Elijah and the light of the world. “The prophet Elijah arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch. It was he who brought famine on them, and who decimated them in his zeal.” Following John the Baptist, we are called to reveal the face of God to the world through our words and actions. This was what was prophesied of John the Baptist when he was born, which we can also make our own. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The season of Advent requires that each one of us acts as a forerunner for Christ to the world. This explains why the Church advocates all the spiritual, material and social preparations. We want the world to be reminded of Christ’s coming as Saviour of the World. Indeed, through our good works and encouragement, we can reveal the face of Christ to a broken and wounded people who have lost hope in their future and of life now and hereafter. It is only when we reach out to the poor, the abandoned, the lonely elderly, the misunderstood colleague, the disheartened parents, the frustrated and dejected young people that they will see the face of God again.
Good works and deeds of charity must be followed by our sharing of Christ at work in our lives. We must find occasions to talk to them about Jesus, the Saviour of humanity. We do this not by preaching or quoting from the scriptures or expounding our lofty doctrines but simply by sharing with others what Christ has done for us and how by turning to Him in prayer, meditation and especially in the reception of the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation, we find healing, strength and encouragement. In a nutshell, it is not enough to be the Good News to others, but we must give them the Good News incarnated in Christ as well. Only when the time is opportune, without sounding too imposing, do we invite them gently to return to Church, make a good confession, celebrate the Eucharist, and for those who are more receptive, to attend a silent or community renewal retreat. For those who have left the Church, they should be invited for Christian fellowship, Christmas celebration and be encouraged to join groups like Landings, Alpha Program, Charismatic Renewal, etc. Most importantly, they need to be introduced to good and exemplary Catholics.
For this reason, we cannot be forerunners of Christ our Saviour unless we first imbibe the message of John the Baptist. We ourselves must first repent, acknowledge and confess our sins and live a life of holiness. Without which, we will be ineffective messengers of our Lord. Conversion and repentance must begin with us. We must accept Christ ourselves. We must first welcome Christ to our lives by entering into the wilderness in prayer and contemplation of the Word of God, like John the Baptist. Unless we pray and ask for His grace, we cannot be authentic witnesses. That is the real problem. Many Catholics want to be saviours of the world, but they do it without the help of the One and Only Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. They do not pray and spend time with the Lord before they serve Him in mission. Indeed, we need to ask for His grace, especially for our leaders. With the psalmist, we too pray, “May your hand be on the man you have chosen, the man you have given your strength. And we shall never forsake you again; give us life that we may call upon your name.” In the final analysis, only God can save us and show us His face. We are like John the Baptist, happy to hear the bridegroom’s voice and happier to know that the Lord is loved and known by so many. As a forerunner, we remain conscious that our role is to make the Lord increase and we decrease. He is the Word, we are the voice. He is the Light, we are the torch. He is the Saviour, we are simply His messengers.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.