Thursday, 17 July 2014

St Luke 3:1-22

Chapter 3 of St Luke's Gospel takes us to the mission of St John the Baptist:

1 Anno autem quintodecimo imperii Tiberii Cæsaris, procurante Pontio Pilato Judæam, tetrarcha autem Galiææ Herode, Philippo autem fratre ejus tetrarcha Iturææ, et Trachonitidis regionis, et Lysania Abilinæ tetrarcha, 2 sub principibus sacerdotum Anna et Caipha: factum est verbum Domini super Joannem, Zachariæ filium, in deserto. 3 Et venit in omnem regionem Jordanis, prædicans baptismum pœnitentiæ in remissionem peccatorum, 4 sicut scriptum est in libro sermonum Isaiæ prophetæ:
Vox clamantis in deserto:Parate viam Domini; rectas facite semitas ejus: 5 omnis vallis implebitur,et omnis mons, et collis humiliabitur:et erunt prava in directa, et aspera in vias planas: 6 et videbit omnis caro salutare Dei. 7 Dicebat ergo ad turbas quæ exibant ut baptizarentur ab ipso: Genimina viperarum, quis ostendit vobis fugere a ventura ira? 8 Facite ergo fructus dignos pœnitentiæ, et ne cœperitis dicere: Patrem habemus Abraham. Dico enim vobis quia potens est Deus de lapidibus istis suscitare filios Abrahæ. 9 Jam enim securis ad radicem arborum posita est. Omnis ergo arbor non faciens fructum bonum, excidetur, et in ignem mittetur. 10 Et interrogabant eum turbæ, dicentes: Quid ergo faciemus? 11 Respondens autem dicebat illis: Qui habet duas tunicas, det non habenti: et qui habet escas, similiter faciat. 12 Venerunt autem et publicani ut baptizarentur, et dixerunt ad illum: Magister, quid faciemus? 13 At ille dixit ad eos: Nihil amplius, quam quod constitutum est vobis, faciatis. 14 Interrogabant autem eum et milites, dicentes: Quid faciemus et nos? Et ait illis: Neminem concutiatis, neque calumniam faciatis: et contenti estote stipendiis vestris.15 Existimante autem populo, et cogitantibus omnibus in cordibus suis de Joanne, ne forte ipse esset Christus, 16 respondit Joannes, dicens omnibus: Ego quidem aqua baptizo vos: veniet autem fortior me, cujus non sum dignus solvere corrigiam calceamentorum ejus: ipse vos baptizabit in Spiritu Sancto et igni: 17 cujus ventilabrum in manu ejus, et purgabit aream suam, et congregabit triticum in horreum suum, paleas autem comburet igni inextinguibili. 18 Multa quidem et alia exhortans evangelizabat populo. 19 Herodes autem tetrarcha cum corriperetur ab illo de Herodiade uxore fratris sui, et de omnibus malis quæ fecit Herodes, 20 adjecit et hoc super omnia, et inclusit Joannem in carcere. 21 Factum est autem cum baptizaretur omnis populus, et Jesu baptizato, et orante, apertum est cælum: 22 et descendit Spiritus Sanctus corporali specie sicut columba in ipsum: et vox de cælo facta est: Tu es filius meus dilectus, in te complacui mihi.

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea, and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina; [2] Under the high priests Annas and Caiphas; the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. [3] And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins; [4] As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. [5] Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain;[6] And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. [7] He said therefore to the multitudes that went forth to be baptized by him: Ye offspring of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? [8] Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance; and do not begin to say, We have Abraham for our father. For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. [9] For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire. [10] And the people asked him, saying: What then shall we do?[11] And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner. [12] And the publicans also came to be baptized, and said to him: Master, what shall we do? [13] But he said to them: Do nothing more than that which is appointed you. [14] And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay. [15] And as the people were of opinion, and all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ; [16] John answered, saying unto all: I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: [17] Whose fan is in his hand, and he will purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. [18] And many other things exhorting, did he preach to the people. [19] But Herod the tetrarch, when he was reproved by him for Herodias, his brother' s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done; [20] He added this also above all, and shut up John in prison.[21] Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also being baptized and praying, heaven was opened; [22] And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, as a dove upon him; and a voice came from heaven: Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

Commentary (de Lapide)

...S. Luke passes from the twelfth year of Christ to His thirtieth, when, after the manner of the Hebrews, He began to discharge His Office of Teacher and Redeemer and to preach publicly....

S. Luke is at great pains to enumerate here the chief personages, both secular and ecclesiastic:—
(1.) To mark distinctly and palpably the time and year when John, and then Christ, began to preach.
(2.) To shew that the sceptre had now passed from Judah, because Herod and his sons the tetrarchs, and Tiberias and the Romans had become the rulers of Judæa, and that therefore the Messiah, the beginning of whose preaching he relates in this chapter, had come, according to the prophecy of Jacob, Gen. xlix. 10.
(3.) To give us to understand that Israel, torn in sunder among so many rulers; some infidels, others impious men, had need of the advent of the Messiah, Who should make the people whole and save them.
(4.) Because these personages had much to do with those works of John and of Christ which S. Luke will afterwards relate. Tiberius, as I have said, wished to number Christ among the gods; Pilate crucified Him; Herod Antipas seized upon Herodias the wife of his brother Philip, and being reproved by John, slew him; and he clothed Christ in a white dress and mocked Him; while Annas and Caiaphas persecuted Christ to death, and also persecuted the Apostles after His death...

The word (that is, the command) of God came unto John the son of Zacharias. In the fifteenth year of Tiberius, God ordered John the Baptist to preach and baptize; ordered him by an interior inspiration, perhaps too by the voice of an angel.

Ver. 3.—And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance (i.e., stirring them up to do penance) for the remission of sins—to be obtained in the baptism of Christ. John was preaching penance, that by it they might dispose themselves for the reception of pardon and grace from Christ. See Matt. iii.

Ver. 4.—As it is written in the book of the words of Isaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.

Ver. 5.—Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be bought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth.  S. Gregory (Hom. xx. In Evangelia), S. Augustine, S. Chrysostom, Bede, and others interpret these words as meaning, Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted, as Christ said. This, however, is a discourse in which John exhorts his hearers to a change of life and conversation, as though he said, 0 ye Jews, prepare the way for Christ, your Messiah, now about to come to you. Wherefore, “Every valley shall be filled,” i.e., let it be filled up, “and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,” i.e., let it be brought low, “and the crooked,” i.e., difficult ways, “shall be,” i.e., let them be made, “into straight,” &c. In other words, smooth all the ways for Christ, your King, Who cometh, as is wont to be done for kings that are about to enter upon their kingdoms, so that the rough ways be made smooth and level. Remove from your minds all that is evil, distorted, or unequal; too much lifted up, or too much cast down; he that beareth in his heart the mountain of pride, let him bring down this swelling, and he that hath in him the valley of pusillanimity or sloth, let him lift and fill it up with generosity and confidence in God; and he that is of “rough” behaviour, let him train himself to suavity and modesty.
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God—i.e., so shall it come to pass that every man shall be able to see both with the eyes of the body, and also more especially with those of the soul, “the salvation of God”—the Saviour Christ—feel and experience within himself the salvation and the power of the grace brought by Christ.

S. Gregory (Hom. 20 In Evang.) says, “Every valley shall be filled up, because the humble receive a gift which the hearts of them that are puffed up repel from them. The bad places are made straight when the hearts of the wicked, turned awry by iniquity, are directed by the rule of justice; and the rough places are turned into smooth ways when haughty and angry minds return to the gentleness of meekness by the infusion of heavenly grace.”...

Ver. 10.—And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? that we may bear fruits worthy of penance, and so avoid the ruin threatened by you, and obtain everlasting salvation. John had accused the Pharisees and the populace, but the Pharisees “despised the counsel of God,” c. vii. 30, and therefore also the discourse of John; but the crowd of common people, deeply moved and touched by the force of his preaching, try to find out the way to repent, so as to seize upon John’s instructions, and offer themselves to him ready and prepared. So also, in these days, the common people were more ready than the great to take hold of the warnings of preachers, and are therefore saved rather than they.

Ver. 11.—He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. A synecdoche; he signifies every kind of alms-deed by one which is the more common and necessary; clothing and feeding the poor. “Two” supposing one coat to be sufficient to clothe and warm the body, and the other, therefore, superfluous, let him give that other “to him that hath not,” to him that is naked and in need of a coat. For if both be necessary he is not bound to, give either to the poor man. So S. Jerome (Quæst. I. ad Hedibiam); and S. Ambrose, on this passage, says, “The limits of mercy are observed according to the capability of human nature, so that each one deprive not himself of everything, but share what he has with the poor man,” and he adds, “He that is able, let him bear the fruit of grace, he that is bound, of penance. The use of mercy is common, therefore the precept is common; mercy is the fulness of the virtues.”

This, then, is one of the fruits worthy of penance, according to the words of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, “Break off thy sins by righteousness and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor” iv. 27. Besides, almsgiving fitly disposes our lives for every virtue. Every virtue is either of obligation or of supererogation; justice is of obligation, mercy of supererogation, and therefore mercy satisfies both for itself and for justice, both because he that gives what is his own, will not seize what belongs to others, and also because he that gives what he is not bound to give will much more pay what he owes—to which he is bound by justice or some other virtue—and again because mercy comes of love and charity, and charity is the fulness of the law. For “He that loveth hath fulfilled the law,” Rom. xiii.
Euthymius aptly remarks here, “He enjoins on the multitudes to take one another into mutual benevolence, and assist one another with mutual good works.” For the many easily understand works of mercy, and devote themselves to them, while they are not easily induced to prayer, fasting, and works of penance, and sometimes are incapable of them.

Ver. 12.—Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?—to save our souls. Here is fulfilled the saying of Christ “Publicans and harlots shall be before you (0 Scribes) in the kingdom of God,” Matt. xxi. 31. For the sinners, being called to account by John, felt deep compunction, acknowledged their fault, and sought for penance; but the proud Scribes, thinking themselves just and wise, despised it.

Ver. 13.—And he said unto them, exact no more than that which is appointed you—in the exaction of taxes. In the Greek it is πζάσσετε, which can be translated both make and exact, but in this place is more clearly rendered exact as the Syriac and the Greek render it. So Jansenius, Maldonatus, Francis Lucas, and others. For tax-gatherers are wont to increase the tribute out of avarice, and to exact more than is appointed by the Ruler, which is theft or rapine, wherefore John here charges them with it. “He lays a moderate command on them,” says S. Augustine (Serm. 3 de Diversis), “that both iniquity may have no place, and the appointed tribute may have effect” “So the Baptist,” says S. Ambrose, “gives to each generation of men the answer suitable to them.” Let the preacher do the same, and prescribe to wives, to husbands, to sons, to maidservants, to menservants, to merchants, farmers and lawyers, what each in particular ought to do, and give each one the directions proper to his state of life.”

Ver. 14.—And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. Soldiers who were serving some of them under Herod Antipas against Aretas, the king of the Arabs, some under the prefect of the Temple, and some under Pilate, the Roman Governor; these men, hearing John thundering against their vices, and threatening them with hell, conscious of rapine and other crimes, which soldiers are wont to commit, becoming, together with the publicans, contrite, at the word of John, seek from him the remedy of penance, of a good life, and of salvation. John, therefore, tacitly gives it to be understood that it is lawful to be a soldier, and that war is lawful, as S. Ambrose teaches (Serm. 7), and S. Augustine (Contra Faustum, bk. xxii. ch. lxxiv.)

Ver. 15.—And as the people were in expectation (in the Greek πζοσδοκου̃ντες, suspecting, expecting, as Vatablus renders it—when the people were hoping, or were in suspense with hope, desire, and expectation), and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not—the Messiah promised to the fathers, and so eagerly expected by all the Jews at this particular time when the sceptre had passed from Judah, and Daniel’s seventy weeks, the sign of Christ’s coming, were fulfilled. As the people, then, were spreading this report about John, the chief men of the Jews at length sent messengers to him to ask him whether he were Christ (John i 19). Such was the holiness of John. So S. Ambrose, Bede, and others explain.

Ver. 16.—John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water, but one mightier than I cometh, namely the Messias.

The rest which Luke here adds has been explained on Matt. iii. 11.

Morally, Origen says, “Preachers are here warned not to allow themselves to be too much praised or honoured by the people, but to suppress these praises and honours, and refer them to Christ, lest by reason of their pride they be deprived of them by Christ.”

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