John the Baptist fulfills the words of Isaiah (Is 40:3):
A herald’s voice in the desert:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight His paths.
St. Thomas Aquinas observes that while we are asked to prepare the way to the Lord, we can’t prepare His way unless He comes to help us: “Now it seems more suitable to have said, ‘prepare your way’ to receive the Lord. But it should be noted that we were so weak that we could not get near God, unless He came to us” (Commentary on Matthew, 3).
“What is that way of the Lord?” Thomas answers that “faith” prepares the way: “Faith, which comes by hearing: ‘That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts’ (Eph 3:17).” In addition to faith, charity prepares the way: “‘Prepare’ pertains to charity, which is necessary for salvation” (Commentary on Matthew, 3).
When John challenges the Sadducees and Pharisees, we see that he expected that someone would come in a powerful way: “You brood of vipers. Who told you to flee the wrath to come? …The ax is at the root of the tree every tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down. His winnowing fan is in his hands. He will clear His threshing floor…” (Mt 3:7, 10).
We might expect that the one who was coming would demolish all those who resisted Him, yet, in fact, Jesus didn’t come with power and anger. St. Thomas says, “Anger said of God is not taken for an emotion of the mind, but for its effect (Commentary on Matthew, 7). In other words, God intervenes for the sake of justice but this does not arise from an emotion.
Thomas observes: “Anger is the appetite of another’s evil for the sake of revenge. Anger, therefore, is far from God…” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 90). Why? Thomas notes: “God wills the good of each thing according as it is the good of each thing; for He wills each thing to be according as it is in itself good” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 91). Even when God intervenes, it is for the good of the person.
Thomas explains that God sometimes intervenes but it is not for hatred but to maintain the order of the total good: “For a judge punishes from justice ... Hence, God is at times called angry in so far as, following the order of His wisdom, He wills to punish someone …” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 91).
In the second reading today Paul encourages the Romans, (Rom 15:4-9), reminding them of God’s patience: “the God of all patience and encouragement” (Rm 15:5).
Can we be expected to have patience, as well? Thomas acknowledges: “It seemed exceedingly difficult for a mere man to be able to imitate the example of Christ” (Commentary on the Romans, 1149).
Thomas explains that God gives us the patience, which we don’t have: “God is the giver, ‘You are my patience’ (Ps 71:5)… and of comfort, who bestows spiritual consolation, ‘the Father of mercies and God of all comfort’ (2 Cor 1:3)…”
Paul tells us that we should extend the patience to others that God gives us: “Accept one another, as Christ accepted you” (Rom 15:7). Thomas reflects, “Because of the things written…namely, the examples of Christ and the other saints, receive one another in the love of charity, namely that one bear things that pertain to another, just as he would like to be helped as far as charity pertains, and so that one may bear with one another…” (Commentary on the Romans, 1151).
We have the example of Christ for ourselves, as Thomas observes, “as Christ also has received you, took you under His care and protection” (Commentary on the Romans, 1152).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Romans are taken from the translation begun by Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. and edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012, pp. 394-397.