John the Baptist Prepares the Way

Matthew 3:1-12

In diebus autem illis venit Joannes Baptista prædicans in deserto Judææ, et dicens: Pœnitentiam agite: appropinquavit enim regnum cælorum. Hic est enim, qui dictus est per Isaiam prophetam dicentem: [Vox clamantis in deserto: Parate viam Domini; rectas facite semitas ejus.] Ipse autem Joannes habebat vestimentum de pilis camelorum, et zonam pelliceam circa lumbos suos: esca autem ejus erat locustæ, et mel silvestre. Tunc exibat ad eum Jerosolyma, et omnis Judæa, et omnis regio circa Jordanem; et baptizabantur ab eo in Jordane, confitentes peccata sua. Videns autem multos pharisæorum, et sadducæorum, venientes ad baptismum suum, dixit eis: Progenies viperarum, quis demonstravit vobis fugere a ventura ira? Facite ergo fructum dignum pœnitentiæ. Et ne velitis dicere intra vos: Patrem habemus Abraham. Dico enim vobis quoniam potens est Deus de lapidibus istis suscitare filios Abrahæ. Jam enim securis ad radicem arborum posita est. Omnis ergo arbor, quæ non facit fructum bonum, excidetur, et in ignem mittetur. Ego quidem baptizo vos in aqua in pœnitentiam: qui autem post me venturus est, fortior me est, cujus non sum dignus calceamenta portare: ipse vos baptizabit in Spiritu Sancto, et igni. Cujus ventilabrum in manu sua: et permundabit aream suam: et congregabit triticum suum in horreum, paleas autem comburet igni inextinguibili.

And in those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the desert of Judea, saying, “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven approaches.” This is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, “A voice of one crying in the desert, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'” And the same John had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt around his loins. And his meal was of locusts, and honey from the forest. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in Jordan, confessing their sins. And seeing many of the Pharisees, and Sadducees, coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Generation of vipers, who taught you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore make fruit worthy of penance. And do not wish to say among yourselves: ‘We have Abraham as our father’. For I tell you that from these stones God is able to raise the children of Abraham. For already the axe is placed at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree, which does not bring forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you in water for repentance. But he who shall come after me, who is stronger than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear, he himself shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit, and in fire. Whose winnowing fork is in his hand, and he shall cleanse his threshing floor. And he shall gather his wheat into the granary, but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Vocabulary

  1. rectas — straight
  2. semitas — paths
  3. pilis — hair
  4. pelliceam — leather
  5. zonam — belt
  6. lumbos — loins
  7. esca — meal
  8. mel — honey
  9. potens — being able (to)
  10. venturus est — future active periphrastic
  11. ventilabrum — winnowing fork
  12. triticum — wheat
  13. horreum — granary
  14. paleas — chaff

Commentary

In this passage, John the Baptist is introduced by Isaiah’s beautiful words. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths'”. The theme of the passage is clear: that John the Baptist will prepare the way for Jesus, and fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. The first half of the passage describes John the Baptist, the clothes he is wearing, and his reason for being in the wilderness. People come to him from all over to be baptized. But then the Pharisees and the Sadducees come to him, and the passage ends with a lengthy bit of dialogue. John is addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees, warning them about the things to come. He uses two rich metaphors to deliver his meaning. The first is of trees and their fruit. You know a good tree by its fruit, and likewise, you know a good person by their deeds. I believe this metaphor has a precedent in Solomon’s proverbs.  The second metaphor is of the threshing floor. Jesus will separate the wicked from the righteous as one might winnow the chaff from the wheat. Both of these metaphors relate Jesus Christ’s divine authority to determine who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. Therefore John the Baptist is preparing us for Jesus, exhorting us to repent our sins, and to make straight his paths.

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