My Dear People,
In today’s reading, the Gospel describes how and when God would fulfill the promises of a new exodus. St. Luke identifies John the Baptist as the primary fulfillment of a famous prophecy. (Isaiah 40:3-5). An unidentified voice issued a call for a road to be made whereby God would travel, bringing with Him His scattered people back to their home.
But apparently, John the Baptist did not take Isaiah’s prophecy to be a literal command about roadbuilding because there is no record in the Gospel of him undertaking such a project.
The primary problem of the people of God was not the lack of roads. The transportation system in the Roman Empire was, in fact, quite good. Israelites who wished to return to their ancestral land could get there easily if they wanted. However, large groups of them chose to live elsewhere around the Mediterranean, in places where they had found good living. Just as there are huge communities of Jews in New York and other major cities around the world outside the land of Israel today, so in ancient times, there were huge Jewish colonies in Alexandria (Egypt), Rome, and in many of the major cities of the Empire.
So, the primary problem of God’s people was not a lack of roads or their distance from their ancestral land. The problem was their sins: their spiritual estrangement from God. For this reason, the “road” that John the Baptist offers is repentance, expressed through the waters of Baptism.
The description of the roadbuilding lends itself to a spiritual interpretation. It has a basis in the New Testament itself, in texts like the Magnificat and the Sermon on the Mount.
“Every valley shall be filled” refers to hope, encouragement, and new life granted to the poor, the oppressed, and the lowly people who feel they have been forgotten by God or are not worthy of God’s attention.
“Every mountain and hill shall be made low” refers to the humbling of the proud. It is referring to the repentance the strong and arrogant must undergo in order to receive God’s salvation.
The “winding roads” and “rough ways” refers to the twists and turns of the human heart, contorted by sin (Jer. 17:9). The human heart needs to be “simplified” or “straightened” by honest and truthful confession of sin.
The classic hymn, “On Jordan’s Banks,” actually provides a fairly adequate spiritual exegesis of today’s Gospel in its second verse:
Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.
This is what the Church is calling us to do in this preparatory season of Advent. Those of us who feel lowly and downtrodden by life need to exercise faith and hope. We should lift up our heads and remember this life is temporary, then look to Jesus. Those of us who think we have it all together need to exercise some humility and do an examination of conscience. But most of all, we need to straighten out our interior crookedness.
So in this second week of Advent, it would be highly appropriate to take the time right now to schedule a date for Confession this week. This is the Sacrament where we speak the simple truth, making the twisted become straight and the rough smooth.
Remember we have confession half an hour before all Masses.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente