At some stage in the future – who knows when? – the Westgate tunnel will eventually be completed, and we might all forget the ‘fun’ of the current mess of getting out to the south-west of our city. Whatever you might think of that particular project, major infrastructure projects, wherever they occur, are quite the marvel: be it a kilometres-long train tunnel under a mountain, or a bridge over a vast expanse of water, or a highway cutting through great swathes of undulating terrain. While we might now be used to such engineering feats, it has only been in relatively recent history that human ingenuity has devised the capability – even if, still, at astronomical costs – to:
Fill in every valley,
Lay low every mountain and hill,
Straighten winding ways,
and make smooth rough roads.
Oh, how the ancient prophets of Israel would envy us now.
The images of overcoming great hurdles, given to us from Israel’s prophets in today’s first reading and gospel, nonetheless can still speak to us today. They speak not our own human triumphs, but of God’s decisive intervention into human history, so as to bring about our fulfilment. We humans cannot save ourselves, as much as we try. History is full of one story after another of our prideful attempts to overcome our fallen ways, all of them ending in failure. Empires rise and crumble; tyrants ascend and fall; wars mark every page of human history; weakness and corruption are our constant lot. Our self-made paths remain crooked, mountains continue to block our ways, valleys still lead us into deep and dangerous traps.
This is why John came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness from sins.” We are a fallen people, needing to be saved, and this will never be achieved by our own doing. What God has done is to inject hope into the misery of our fallen condition. He promised a Messiah who would straighten our crooked paths, and even out the rough terrain of our lives. Hope is God’s great engineering feat – His way through for us. And this hope has a name, Jesus Christ, who is one of us.
This is why St Paul was so confident in telling the Philippian Christians that “the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes.” God’s Son is the hope of the world, showing us the way forward to our destination and guiding our steps along the way. Hope has a finishing line, a completion date. God – in Christ, and not in ourselves – is the only and true saviour of the world.
There is a centuries-old saying, sometimes attributed to St Teresa of Avila, which says, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” In faith and trust, we can hope that the crooked lines of our lives will be made straight by God’s gift of reconciliation and conversion. Soon, we will commemorate the birth of a baby boy. May we prepare to receive his straightened ways.
Feature image: Saint John the Baptist Preaching to the Masses in the Wilderness by Pieter Brueghel the Younger
Melbourne Catholic18 January 2022
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC)17 January 2022