Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 3:7-18:

The preaching of John and his manner of life appeared as a throwback in such evident ways to the long-deceased prophets that the people most naturally ask if he is the promised Christ (Luke 3:15). The Baptist’s answer is straightforward and yet charged with the deepest possible level of spiritual significance. What does he mean by referring to the sandal strap of the Coming One, saying that he is not worthy to loosen it?

“To loosen the sandal strap” is, in Old Testament marriage custom, associated with levirate marriage. Although there are only two Old Testament narratives in which this custom is referenced, namely the account of Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38) and the story of the kinsman redeemer (gō’ēl) in the book of Ruth, there seems to be warrant for thinking that the practice of levirate law (from Hebrew yābām, “brother-in-law,” translated into Latin as levir) laid down in Deut. 25:5-10 may be alluded to here. By loosening the strap of one shoe (cf. Ruth 4:7-8), a man who was closest kin to a widow or “desolate” woman could without blame give up his legal obligation (and right) to marry her.

The attentive reader of scripture will already have noted that John and Jesus are cousins (“brothers” in Semitic parlance) and that the offspring of both Old Testament unions (Perez son of Judah and Tamar, and Obed son of Boaz and Ruth) are mentioned in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, which follows almost immediately in the text (3:32-33). . . . John the Baptist, last of the prophets, represents fidelity under the law and the covenant. But even as the questions of the people concerning his identity suggest, he is naturally to be associated with Israel’s longing for redemption “in the fullness of time”; they seek thus to discover if he is to be their gō’ēl (“redeemer”).

John’s answer that he is not that person is given by reference to the levirate sign, according to Gregory the Great: “John denounces himself as unworthy to loose the latchet of Christ’s shoes; as if he openly said, ‘I am not able to disclose the footsteps of the Redeemer, and do not presume to take unto myself unworthily the name of bridegroom,’ for it was an ancient custom that when a man refused to take to wife her to whom he was obligated, whoever should come to her betrothed by right of kin was to loose his shoe” (Forty Gospel Homilies 6).


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.