Sybil 2002

Gospel text

Luke 3: 10-18

10 The crowds asked John, "What should we do? 11 His answer was to tell them this, "Who has two tunics, that he shares with the one who has none, and that he who has food does the same. 12 Customs officers came to him to be baptized and ask him, "Master, what shall we do? 13 And he said to them, "Take no more than what you have been prescribed. Soldiers also interrogated him with these words, "And what should we do? He said to them, "Do not molest and slander anyone, and be satisfied with your pay."

15 As the people were waiting and everyone was debating in his heart if John was not the messiah, 16 John spoke and said, "Of course, I baptize you in the water, but the one, who is stronger than I am, is coming, the one of whom I am not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 He has the shovel in his hand to clean his area and gather the wheat in his barn. And as for the straw, it will burn it with fire that does not go out". 18 By several other exhortations, he announced the good news to the people.


It's just an animal, but how essential for many

Gospel commentary - Homily

We are nothing, yet we are essential

In Quebec, a public commission of inquiry began to reveal the extent of corruption in the world of construction and officials of large municipalities, and to show the influence of the Sicilian mafia. And everyone knows that this is just the tip of the iceberg. At the same time, in several other municipalities, mayors are invited to resign for various irregularities. If our eyes turn to the whole political world, there will be cases of corrupt officials and politicians everywhere. What does that mean? That humanity is fundamentally bad? I do not believe that. But how weak we are! We all have good dispositions, but all that is needed is a more or less honest colleague who influences us, an invitation in a period of fragility, a moment of exasperation, and this is the first step that will lead to other steps in the wrong direction. How to throw the stone at all these so-called "corrupt" people when we could have been of those, if the circumstances of our life had been different. Is it to despair of our humanity? No. But we may have to change our look. With all this in mind, let's read the Gospel of this day.

This text of the Evangelist Luke has a very simple and clear structure. In the first part, John responds to people affected by his preaching by inviting them to share if they have surplus, and to be honest and upright if they are customs, military or police officers. In a second part, John dispels any confusion about his role by insisting that he is not the messiah, because he is not able to spread the Holy Spirit on everyone and to make a judgment that will eliminate definitely the evil; it is someone else, much more powerful than him, who will have this ability.

For a Christian accustomed to the liturgy of Sunday, the role of John the Baptist is clear: he must introduce Jesus and then escape to leave him all the room. But today I ask the question: what would have happened if there had been no John the Baptist? Imagine for a moment what would have happened if John, son of the priest Zechariah, had decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and, as a member of the priestly line, to officiate as his father in due time at the temple of Jerusalem, Instead of being this rebel in the desert preaching that God would soon intervene and that it was necessary to change life? History tells us that it was the preaching of John the Baptist who awakened Jesus to his vocation and led him to leave the profession of carpentry he had from his father to be baptized and to experience his unique vocation. You may want to tell me that God would have managed to reach His goal otherwise. Maybe... All I know is that one day a simple man, John the Baptist, made a crazy decision not to follow in his father's footsteps, and this decision is the one that makes that our humanity is different today. And this John, son of Zechariah, is not so different from us.

Moreover, we can easily share the content of his exhortations: invitation to sharing, fairness and integrity. Let's imagine if suddenly our humanity would live these values. Would not it be paradise on earth? We would no longer talk about corruption in the world and John the Baptist would be our hero. Yet after two thousand years, corruption continues to the point of leaving us all disillusioned. This is how Luke presents a John the Baptist who affirms, at the end of today's Gospel, the need for a reality much stronger than him, a simple man, to bring about a definitive transformation. For Luke, and for Christians, this stronger reality will come through Jesus and the gift of his Spirit. In other words, the most beautiful preaching or the most beautiful speeches will not be enough to change things, it also requires a force that works from within the human heart, and can only come from God alone. All this was enough to keep our John the Baptist very humble despite his great reputation. He could have said as we often do, at the end of his life, from the depths of his prison in the fortress of Machaerus in present-day Jordan: my work may have been useless.

What to remember from the Gospel of this day? There is a tension between the magnificent work of John the Baptist and the limits of this work, and therefore the call for a much greater force to transform hearts. But this greater force, the Holy Spirit poured out into the world, will not be able to fully act without us and without patiently accepting all the necessary time required for the transformation of hearts.

The story of John the Baptist is ours. On certain days, we look at our children, our grandchildren, our students, our employees, our fellow citizens or our friends, and we say to ourselves: we did a good job anyway. But in other days, all this beautiful world takes different paths and our environment seems worse than before, and at that moment we say to ourselves: what have we left, if not little. The Gospel reminds us this: It's true, only God can profoundly transform the human heart, not you, and you have to work with that perspective. On the other hand, nothing will be done without you: your part is essential and fundamental, even if you do not see it. Your mistake is to look for quick and ready-made solutions, and to forget that small decisions and small actions build over time a building bigger than you. Corruption exists because there are eyes to see it and to challenge it, and corruption will continue to have different faces over the centuries, because there will always be eyes to better track it and remind us the grandeur of the human vocation. We are in a world of both the infinitely small and the infinitely big, insofar as we look at it with the eyes of faith.

Where do we stand in all this?


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, December 2012