“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things, but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” (Matthew 17:11-12)
Looking at our readings today from the book of Ecclesiasticus and the Gospel of Matthew, one might be tempted to infer that John the Baptist was a re-incarnation of Elijah. Nevertheless, as the Catechism teaches: “When the single course of our earthly life is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives. There is no reincarnation after death.” (CCC No. 1013).
Our first reading today pays glowing tributes to Elijah. Given that Elijah did not really die but was simply taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, many believed that he would come again. In fact, there were many in the time of Jesus who strongly held the belief that unless Elijah returns, the Messiah would not come.
Peter, James and John having experienced the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ were convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. So they asked Him: “What about Elijah that is to come?” Jesus answered indirectly but they inferred that John the Baptist is the Elijah that is to come.
Can we then say that John the Baptist is a reincarnation of Elijah? Certainly not! So how would Jesus refer to John the Baptist as Elijah? Simply put, considering what John the Baptist did in preparing the way for the Messiah, he was just a perfect representation of Elijah.
John the Baptist, just like Elijah powerfully directed the hearts of many in Israel from idolatry to God. Many were converted, they confessed their sins and received the baptism from John the Baptist. Secondly, just as Elijah was seriously persecuted by Jezebel, John the Baptist faced his share of persecution from Herod and his adulterous wife Herodias. In fact, Jesus stated clearly that He too would “suffer at their hands.”
Christmas is a bitter-sweet celebration. When we consider the fact that God freely gave His only Son Jesus for our sake, it is sweet but seeing how badly we humans treated Jesus and how badly we treat those who stand for truth and righteousness, we wonder if humanity was really imparted by the birth of Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, rather than arguing about re-incarnation, we should consider the fact that our readings today have presented us with two role models, John the Baptist and Elijah. By emulating their virtues and living by the principles they represent, we become John the Baptists and Elijahs of our time. By directing people to repent from their sins and turn away from false gods, we literally prepare the way for the celebration of Christmas.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, increase my faith and trust in you. Amen.
Bible Study: Sirach 48:1-12, Psalm 80:2-19 & Matthew 17:10-13).