Psalm 85: 10-11

God's Word changes everything 

During a reflection day I was privileged to give several months ago for retired priests of the Peoria, Ill., diocese, the discussion turned to a topic haunting many older priests.

We've spent much of our ministry preaching and living the reforms of Vatican II. Now, as we grow, old we see many recently ordained priests not only dissing those reforms, but encouraging their people to return to preconciliar theologies and practices.

When one of the day's participants expressed a fear he'd wasted his ministry's best years in pursuit of a reform which is on the verge of being forgotten, Rev. John Dietzen shared a hopeful observation.

The syndicated columnist reminded us, "The Eucharist is still in English. And as long as it is, our people will hear God's word as it was originally intended to be heard. That means there's always a chance for reform."

Our sacred authors couldn't agree more.

Whoever cut the middle three verses from today's first reading (Isaiah 40:1-8) wasn't a student of Deutero-Isaiah. The prophet based his entire ministry on one of those omitted verses: "Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the word of our God stands forever."

Mired in a 50-year exile, no hope of return, Deutero-Isaiah's preaching revolved around trusting God's word. What Yahweh proclaimed, Yahweh will bring about.

There's just one problem: the future won't be an exact copy of the past. Though the prophet constantly employs Exodus imagery to convey his message of return, the Chosen People's liberation from Babylon will be very different from their liberation from Egypt. God never achieves the same goals in quite the same way.

Mark's treatment of John the Baptizer demonstrates that same diversity (Mark 1:1-8). John is depicted as a classic Hebrew prophet, "clothed in camel's hair, a leather belt around his waist. His food was grasshoppers and wild honey." Our very first "book prophet," Amos, would have identified with John's stark lifestyle.

Yet John never says, "Look for someone just like me to come after me." Instead, he proclaims, "One more powerful than I is to come after me. I am not fit to stoop and untie his sandal straps." One outward sign of difference: "I have baptized you in water; he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit."

Scripture scholars today presume the historical Jesus and many of His first disciples originally had been John's disciples. 

After the Baptizer's martyrdom, some turned to the Galilean carpenter for leadership, and He eventually took John's reform in a new direction.

Since there were still followers of John several centuries after Jesus' death and resurrection who continued to preach that John, not Jesus, was the Messiah, it's clear not everyone involved in John's reform was convinced of Jesus' new direction and message. Good people simply had to make a choice between keeping the old or exploring the new.

It's ironic that our earliest Christian biblical writing, I Thessalonians, and our last, II Peter, bring up the same problem: Jesus' delayed Parousia. Paul and the II Peter author dealt with the fact that Jesus hadn't returned in His Second Coming as quickly as His first followers had expected him to return.

By the time our second reading (II Peter 3:8-14) was composed, in the early second century, most Christians had become comfortable with the idea that Jesus wasn't going to return in their lifetime. Yet from II Peter's mention of the issue, it's clear that some were still disturbed by the delay.

God's biblical word shows God always calls us to look at our faith in new ways, always encourages us to walk down new paths. It also demonstrates some people of faith take a long time before they completely give themselves over to the power of that new word. But as long as they continue to listen to it, they eventually do.




Jesus, help me pay attention when I start
getting distracted! Amen.


When Jesus was ready to start teaching,
John the Baptist reminded people to get ready, to show they were sorry for their sins by being baptized. "The one who's coming is much greater than
I am," John said. "I don't even deserve to untie
His shoes! And I'll just baptize you with water,
but He can baptize with the Holy Spirit."

"Distractions" happen when you're in the middle of one thing, but thinking about something else: for example, your teacher catches you staring straight ahead, daydreaming about what you'd like for Christmas instead of listening.

Your Christmas list might be more interesting than the homework being assigned, but you have to admit that you can't concentrate on both things at once. In this week's Gospel (Mark 1:1-8), even John the Baptist warns people not to get distracted!

It's easy to get distracted when something more interesting pops into your thoughts (or vision) than what you're supposed to be thinking about. Watch what happens when someone trips outside the window: Suddenly, every kid is watching that, not the teacher.

In John the Baptist's time, he was having trouble with distracted people, too. John was teaching about God and baptizing people himself, so they weren't paying much attention to his announcements that Jesus was coming and was the one they should really follow.

To get past a distraction, you might have to force your attention back to where it should be, even if it seems less interesting at the moment. That's what John did: When people tried to follow him, he just kept talking about how Jesus would be even better.

John knew it was easy to get distracted, so he pointed out cool stuff to keep people interested: Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit! Jesus would be so awesome, John wasn't good enough to untie His shoes! John was a person, but Jesus was the Son of God!