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Gregory the Great on Luke 3:1-6

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Gregory the GreatThe Fathers of the Church made sure that the faithful who listened to them remember not only their words but also the text of Scriptures they were preaching on. Line-by-line commentaries are considered pedantic now, and preachers are dissuaded from doing it. But in the days when the only copy of Scriptures is the one heard and proclaimed in Church, the line-by-line commentary is an aid for memory. The example below is from Gregory the Great’s Homily XX (1-7) on Luke 3:1-6. He not only repeats the Scriptures that was already proclaimed, but he also relates them to other texts that the faithful has already heard. In this example, passages about John the Baptist from the Gospel of John are used for illuminating passages from Luke 3:1-6. Interesting in this homily is the way Gregory the Great explains the following:

  1. the historical situationer in Luke 3:1 and how it speaks of the future disintegration of Judah
  2. the saying “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30)
  3. the preacher’s words, God’s grace and the effects of both on the listener
  4. the eschatological meaning of the saying “And all men shall see the salvation of God” which he relates to the Parousia of the Lord.

The precursor of our Redeemer is presented by pointing out the authorities which govern Rome and Judah at the time of his preaching in these words: “In the fifteenth year of Emperor Tiberius Caesar, Pilate being the procurator of Judah, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, Philip his brother the tetrarch of Iturea, Trachonitis, Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene while the chief priests were Annas and Caiphas, the Word of God came to John, son of Zachariah, in the desert.” Because John in fact came to announce him who would redeem some Jews and many Gentiles, the times were indicated with the mention of the king of the Gentiles and the princes of the Jews. Since the Gentiles were to be gathered and the Jews were about to be scattered on account of their wickedness, in the description of the authorities, the Roman republic is assigned to one head and for the kingdom of Judah, the division in four parts is underlined. Our Lord in fact says: “Every kingdom divided in itself will go to ruin (Luke 11:17)”. It is therefore clear that Judah, divided as it was between so many kings has arrived at the end of its kingdom. And it is opportune that it is noted not only who were at that time kings, but also who were the priests, since John the Baptist was to announce him who will be both king and priest.

"And he went through the region of the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentace for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3)". Whoever reads this understands that John not only preached but also gave to some the baptism of repentance, although he could not give his baptism for the remission of sins. The remission of sins in fact is realized only through the Baptism of Christ. One should observe that it is said “He was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” That is, he preached a baptism that forgives sins because he could not give it. Just as he announced the word, the Word of the Father which was made Incarnate, so in his baptism which is incapable of forgiving sins, he anticipated the Baptism of Repentance which would liberate from sins. His preaching anticipated the presence of the Redeemer, his baptism was a shadow of the true Baptism of Christ.

"As it is written in the book of Isaiah: the Voice of one who shouts in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Is. 40:3)" The same Baptist, asked who he was, responded: "I am the voice of one who shouts in the desert" (John 1:23). He is called “voice” because he announces the Word. What he did say is found in these words: "Prepare the way of the Lord; straighten his paths". Whoever announces the true faith and preaches good works, what does he do if not to prepare the hearts of those who listen for the Lord who comes? So that the force of grace may penetrate, the light of truth may shine, one should straighten the ways before the Lord, while the words of a good sermon forms good thoughts in the soul.

"Every vale shall be filled up and every hill and mount shall be brought low" What does “vale” signify here if not the humble, the mountains and hills, if not the proud? At the coming of the Lord the valleys will be filled up and the hills and mountains brought low as he himself says: Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:11). In fact, the valley that is filled up is made high, the mountain and hill that is humbled is brought low because in the faith of the Mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus, the Gentiles receive the fulness of grace and Judah, because of wickedness, loses that which makes it proud (Rom. 9-11). Every valley will be filled up because the hearts of the humble will be filled with the grace of virtues…

The people, because they saw John the Baptist furnished with a wonderful holiness, considered him a mountain that was specially high and solid … But if the same John did not consider himself a valley, he would not have been filled up by the spirit of grace. He in fact says of himself: “One stronger than me is coming; I am not worthy to unfasten the laces of his sandals (Mark 1:7)”. And also: “Whoever has the bride is the bridegroom and the friend of the groom stands there and rejoices at the voice of the groom. My joy is complete and full. He should increase while I must decrease” (Jn. 3:29-30). In fact, when he was mistaken for the Christ because of his exceptional virtues, he did not only reject it, but even said that he was not worthy of untying the laces of his sandals — that is, to mess with the mystery of the incarnation. People thought that the Church was his spouse, but he corrected them saying: “Who has the bride is the bridegroom.” I am not the groom but the friend of the groom. And he said that he rejoiced not in his voice but in the voice of the groom, because he rejoiced not in being humbly listened to by the people, but because he heard within himself the voice of truth which he proclaimed. He says that his joy was full because he who rejoices in one’s own voice does not have complete happiness. And then he adds: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

Now, one will have to ask oneself in what way Christ increases and in what way John is decreased and that the people seeing the abstinence and the solitude of John, mistook him for the Christ, while seeing Christ eating with publicans and sinners, thought this one not as Christ, but as a prophet. But with the passing of time, when Christ who was considered a prophet was recognized as the Christ while John, who was thought to be Christ, was recognized as a prophet, it was then that what the precursor said of Christ was realized: “He must increase while I must decrease.”

"And the crooked paths shall be straightened and the rugged places be made smooth." Crooked paths are straightened when wicked hearts distorted by unrighteousness are aligned to righteousness (Is. 40:4). The rugged places are made smooth when angry minds are turned through the work of grace to the serenity of meekness. When, in fact, the angry mind rejects the world of truth, it is as if the ruggedness of the road would impede the steps of the one who walks. But when the angry soul, through the grace received, accepts the word of correction, then the preacher finds a plane road, where before he would not move his feet.

"And every man will see the salvation of God." But not all men were able to see Christ, the salvation of God, in this life. Where did the prophet turn his glance, if not to the last day of Judgment? When the heavens having been opened, between the angels and the apostles, Christ will appear on a majestic throne and all — the elect and the damned — will see him, so that the just will have their reward without end and the damned will sigh in the eternity of their punishment.

Originally posted 2009-11-18 23:59:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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