Readings: Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11; Psalm 80; Matthew 17:10-13
The script of a play and the score of a symphony are there, ready, given. The enactment of the script or the interpretation of the score require a director or conductor. Jesus is helping the disciples who know the script to see how it is being enacted in him and in the events that have to do with him.
They know (or think they know) how things ought to unfold for they have the revelation given through the prophets. And they are right without understanding very much. They know there is a connection between the coming of the Messiah and a return of Elijah. They know of a connection between Elijah and the Son of Man. They know that Moses and Elijah are the two witnesses who will confirm what is happening on the Day of the Lord. The script will be enacted, the score interpreted, the promise fulfilled because God is the author and God is faithful. But the action, the interpretation, the fulfillment, are according to God's mind and understanding. Just as God is the author of the script and composer of the score, so too the direction and conducting belong to God. The interpretation is God's and we are unlikely to see it beforehand no matter how well we know the texts, for it is the Lord who interprets the texts and not the texts that interpret the Lord.
So John the Baptist is Elijah. He is the precursor, and in a way that already helps them to learn a more difficult lesson: about the kind of Messiah he was to precede, what the Messiahship of Jesus would mean, the suffering. The Baptist is the precursor not only in coming before the Messiah but in modeling the destiny of the Son of Man. The meaning becomes clearer, not so much that Elijah will return as that the mission of Elijah will be repeated. To see the kind of Messiah he was to be they had to see how Elijah had come again and how he had been received. The Baptist unlocks the meaning contained in the prophecies.
And the drama continues, the symphony unfolds, in the lives of believers. We have the script and we know the score: we visit them over and over again throughout the year. But the enactment, and interpretation, and fulfillment, in the life of each one, we do not know these beforehand. It is another who directs and conducts, who guides things. The letter kills: texts are dry as dust in the end, even sacred texts. It is the Spirit that gives life: the fire that destroys and re-creates, the fire that heals and seals.