"The kingdom of heaven is at hand," John proclaims.
And the Liturgy today paints us a vivid portrait of our new
king and the shape of the kingdom He has come to bring.
The Lord whom John prepares the way for in today's Gospel
is the righteous king prophesied in today's First Reading
and Psalm. He is the king's son, the son of David-a shoot
from the root of Jesse, David's father (see Ruth 4:17).
He will be the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit (see
2 Samuel 23:1; 1 Kings 1:39; Psalm 2:2), endowed with the
seven gifts of the Spirit-wisdom, understanding, counsel,
strength, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
He will rule with justice, saving the poor from the ruthless
and wicked. His rule will be not only over Israel-but will
extend from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth. He will
be a light, a signal to all nations. And they will seek Him
and pay Him homage.
In Him, all the tribes of the earth will find blessing. The
covenant promise to Abraham (see Genesis 12:3), renewed in
God's oath to David (see Psalm 89:4,28), will be fulfilled
in His dynasty. And His name will be blessed forever.
In Christ, God confirms His oath to Israel's patriarchs, Paul
tells us in today's Epistle. But no longer are God's promises
reserved solely for the children of Abraham. The Gentiles,
too, will glorify God for His mercy. Once strangers, in Christ
they will be included in "the covenants of promise"
(see Ephesians 2:12).
John delivers this same message in the Gospel. Once God's
chosen people were hewn from the rock of Abraham (see Isaiah
51:1-2). Now, God will raise up living stones (see 1 Peter
2:5)-children of Abraham born not of flesh and blood but of
This is the meaning of the fiery baptism He brings-making
us royal heirs of the kingdom of heaven, the Church.