The readings today feature John the Baptist who is like the Poster Boy for Advent. In his single-hearted dedication to the Lord, he is likened to the Prophet Elijah.
On the last page of our Old Testament we have the prediction by the Prophet Malachi that Elijah will return before the day of the Lord. The final verse in the Old Testament states, “Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day.”
Then, in today’s Gospel, when the disciples asked Jesus why the scribes say that Elijah must return before the day of the Lord, Jesus said that Elijah had already returned; and the disciples realized he was speaking of John the Baptist.
John was not actually identical with Elijah. They had different blood types and different DNA. But, in a poetical sense he was Elijah.
In teaching grade school Religion classes I used Our Lord’s identifying John with Elijah as an example of how we could not always take Bible verses as being literally true.
Our school had a number of Jewish and Protestant kids who didn’t seem to mind my classes. In fact, they usually did better than the Catholics. However, I remember one Baptist boy who insisted on taking every Bible verse as literally true. If I said that some things were written with “poetic license,” he would say, “I don’t care what you say, Father, I will always believe my Bible.”
Once when I asked each kid in the class to tell a story about a time when he or she stood up for their beliefs, the Baptist boy wrote, “It happens every day in this class.”
Maybe ten years later he turned up as best man at a wedding, and he thanked me for showing how to understand the Bible.