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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 3:1–12. Mark 1:1–8. Luke 3:1–18. John 1:19–27]

THE time was approaching when Jesus would show Himself publicly as the Redeemer of the world. Wherefore the word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. Obedient to the divine will, John repaired to the country about the Jordan. He was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leathern girdle round his loins, and his food was wild honey and locusts.

He cried aloud to all the people: “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” In order to excite his hearers more efficaciously to repentance, as also to prepare them for Christian Baptism, he baptized those who were sorry for their sins, in the waters of the Jordan. Then the multitudes came to him from Jerusalem and Judæa to listen to his preaching; and many people of all conditions, after hearing him, confessed their sins and were baptized.

Some of the Sadducees and Pharisees being present among the crowd, John addressed them sternly, saying: “Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruit worthy of penance, and think not to say: ‘We have Abraham for our father’, for I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, there-fore, that yieldeth not good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire.”

And the people asked him: “What then shall we do?” He answered: “He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner.” The soldiers also asked what they should do, and John said to them: “Do violence to no man, neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay.” The Publicans too asked what they were to do, and he answered: “Do nothing more than that which is appointed you.”

Now the austere appearance of the Baptist and his startling exhortation led the people to believe that he was the Messias. John, perceiving this, told them that he was not the Messias, but that there was One coming, mightier than he, the latchet of whose shoes he was not worthy to loose.

He told them, moreover, that he, indeed, baptized with water, but that the Saviour who was to come after him, would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. “Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His floor, and gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then the High Priest and the Council sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John: “Who art thou?” He answered: “I am not the Christ.” They continued: “Art thou Elias?” He replied: “I am not.” They spoke again: “Art thou the great prophet?” He said: “No!” At last they exclaimed: “Why, then, dost thou baptize, if thou be not Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet?” John answered that he was the forerunner [‘a voice crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord’] of the Messias who would soon appear in their midst, preaching penance and announcing the good tidings of salvation.

The virtues of St. John the Baptist.

1. His self-denial. He lived far from the world in the solitude of the desert, wearing one single, coarse, rough garment, and his food was of the poorest description.

2. His obedience. It was a hard task to preach penance to the sensual and worldly-minded Jews, but John promptly undertook the task, because God commanded it.

3. His courage. He did not hesitate to speak out the truth boldly to the Pharisees and Sadducees, although he knew that they would hate him for it.

4. His humility. “I am not the Christ. I am not worthy to loose the latchet of His shoes.”

John’s mission was twofold: 1. to preach penance to the Jews by word and example, and thus make them ready to receive the grace of Redemption; 2. to herald the Redeemer, and bear testimony to Him. The holy prophet fulfilled both missions most perfectly. His preaching was so persuasive that even the hard-hearted publicans and rude soldiers were moved by it. He especially pointed out:

a) the necessity of good works: “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire”;—“He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner”;

b) the duty of justice: “Do nothing more than that which is appointed you”;—“Do violence to no man, neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay”.

The testimony to Christ borne by St. John is very striking. He testified that the Messias was much higher and greater than himself; and he testified to His divine nature, for if the Christ could baptize with the Holy Ghost, and had the right to judge and condemn, He must be God.

Confession of sins. Those who were baptized by John openly confessed their sins. They did this, because, being seized with a deep compunction, they hoped to obtain pardon of their sins by a sincere confession. He who is truly contrite, is always willing to confess his sins. In the Old Testament, a confession of sins was an obligatory part of a sin-offering; and in the New Testament, confession is a necessary condition for the Sacrament of Penance.

The Baptism of John was not a Sacrament, and could not effect any purification or sanctification. It was only designed to admonish men that they needed inward purifying from sins, and must prepare themselves for it by true contrition. It was at the same time a type of Christian Baptism, by which men are cleansed and sanctified through the Holy Ghost.

APPLICATION. You too must bring forth fruits worthy of penance. Have you had true contrition and made firm purposes of amendment each time you have been to confession? Have you always confessed your sins sincerely and fully? And do you think you have really improved since your last confession? In what way have you improved?








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