A reading for the gospel according to Matthew 3:1-12
1 John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.
4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him
6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
8 Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
10 Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
12 His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Reflection: Change of Heart
The appearance of John the Baptist was to prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus is God who is pure, holy and divine. His primary reason for coming (incarnation) is to reunite the people with God the Father. Yet it can not be done because God is holy and the people are not. However, God is mighty and merciful at the same time. Nothing is impossible with Him. All He is asking us, His chosen people, is to repent. What a better way to show repentance than through baptism which is what John actually did in the Jordan River. This is because water has a cleansing property.
Yet baptism for repentance is an external activity. What John really wants is a change of heart. That is why he has reserved the harshest words for the Pharisees and Sadducees, the very people who should be the examples of holiness. He called them “brood of vipers” because their “holiness” was very shallow, meaning only for show. This is a stern warning for all of us. It is not enough for us to be baptized to be called children of Abraham. To really prepare for the coming of Jesus, there must be a metanoia, a change of heart, a true conversion from within.
The bible shows us that God is symbolized by fire because fire is associated with love, power and purification. This means that, aside from water, we must also be baptized with fire in order to burn out any impurities and kindle in us God’s love and power. Moreover, fire has also the power to destroy. Jesus, being the LIGHT of the world, has the power to banish darkness and destroy evil. When we are baptized, we share in the Light of Christ and therefore, it is also our mission to banish darkness and destroy evil. Finally, those who do not accept the LIGHT will be consumed by it in eternity.