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Mass prep – 30 seconds/3 points: The deeper meaning of ‘loosening the thongs of his sandals’


Adam Jan Figel | Shutterstock

Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik - published on 12/11/21

There's a juridical sense of John the Baptist's statement, from the biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

The Gospel for this Sunday is Luke 3:10–18

1. It is not just about humility

In Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that he is not worthy of loosening the thongs of Jesus’ sandals. These words are often interpreted as a sign of humility. However, they have a much deeper meaning.

2. Scriptural sense

I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.

The biblical scholar and expert in Judaism, Frédéric Manns of Jerusalem, stresses that the phrase “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals” must be interpreted in a juridical sense. The biblical Book of Deuteronomy (25:5-10) speaks about the levirate marriage, when the brother of a man who has died childless is encouraged to marry a widow.

John the Baptist is referring specifically to the law of the levirate. The sandal is a sign of the right to marry a bride. In the Book of Ruth, Boaz acquires the right to redeem and marry Ruth, the widow of a close relative. He receives his sandal as a credential.

John the Baptist is not even worthy to loosen the sandal, and so he does not credit himself as the bridegroom. There is only one bridegroom: Jesus.

John, on the other hand, is His friend. Nor is he the one who has the right to redeem people from sin. He only baptizes with water. There is only one Redeemer and Messiah: Jesus.

The sandal also represents dignity. John, who is preparing the people for Christ’s coming, is not the Messiah and this dignity cannot and will not be taken away from Him. The one who proclaims the Good News does not take his sandals with him, that is, he does not seek dignity for himself.

3. Today

Jesus is the only Spouse of the Church and my Redeemer. But He wants me to be His friend, like John the Baptist. How is my friendship with Jesus expressed? How do I care for this relationship every day?

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