Advent 3 A
December 14, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Introduction: Our First reading of this Sunday, known as REJOICE Sunday, give us an interplay between nature and human society. About nature it says, “the desert…will bloom with abundant flowers.” God’s providence extends to healing. In today’s Gospel we hear: “John …sent a message through his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘are you ‘He who is to come’ or do we look for another?’”
Homily: The question that comes to my mind on first hearing this Gospel is: WHY did John send this message to Jesus? What was behind it? I’d like to look at two different answers to that question.1) For the first answer we need to know more about the disciples of John. John had a group of disciples, that is clear. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist points to Jesus as the Lamb of God and two of his disciples follow Jesus. But what we fail to take into account, is that John had more than two disciples. Some of these disciples continued to follow him even after the coming of Jesus on the scene. In John chapter 3:25 we are told “…a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew about purification…” These disciples also jealously object to the number of people who were following Jesus. In the Acts of the Apostles chapter 18 we hear about a group at Ephesus who had been baptized only with the baptism of John. So there was a group of people who were followers of John throughout Jesus’ life and for some time after his death. Some may even have thought that John was the Messiah. John and Jesus have much in common: both were regarded as prophets, their preaching message in some ways is the same, “Reform your lives! The reign of God is at hand.” They both call for action now and “bearing fruit” in good deeds. Both are arrested on very flimsy grounds, executed because of the weakness of a government official, and buried by their disciples. Some say that John sent his disciples to Jesus because he was fed up with them. He had told them explicitly that he had only come to announce the coming of Jesus. He had told them very clearly that he, John, was not humanity’s destination, that he was only a sign?board on the road, and yet they remained all the time, like babies that do not want to be weaned, hanging around him, John. He sent them with the question, hoping that Jesus would convince them to stay with Jesus.
2) There is however another explanation offered. John may have lost faith in Jesus. Reflect for a moment, if you will, on the preaching of John that we heard last Sunday. John the Baptist was a desert man, a kind of wild man. The description of his attire would have reminded people of the prophet Elijah. His words would echo for them the message of previous prophets: Malachi, “the day of the Lord”; Amos and Zephaniah, “coming wrath.” “When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” When we hear these words our tendency is take the meaning for “works” to be the miracles of Jesus. But there was much more to Jesus’ ministry than miracles. John’s harsh judgment on sinners was not Jesus’ way. Jesus ate and drank with sinners. He sat at table with unsavory types. He conversed with prostitutes and even allows them to wash his feet. He objected to the idea of stoning a woman caught in adultery. People confronted him with the fact that the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast often and offer prayers, but yours eat and drink. (Lk. 5:33)
To me it seems conceivable that John couldn’t put together his idea of a rather rigorous Messiah, with the actions of Jesus. Jesus didn’t fit his idea of what the Messiah, the One who is to come, would be like. (Remember that the Apostles also had a similar difficulty accepting the type of Messiah Jesus would present.) And so John addresses his question to Jesus. It is quite possible that John selectively read the prophets. His preaching would seem to indicate that. But John might have overlooked the broader vision of Isaiah. This whole world would start to change under God’s influence through the efforts of the faithful. Remember that beautiful imagery of today’s first reading: “The wilderness is changing, the wasteland is blooming and the glory of God is seen on its way.” I hope that John came to understand that. I hope we under that. Maybe God is asking us too to understand something new about God this Advent. John could boldly address his question to Jesus. Do you have some question that you wish to address to Jesus? Some would prefer a God of fire and brimstone, like John projects. By comparing John and Jesus, we may have to take another look at how we understand, project our God. I think we should be asking one another and the TV Evangelists: Am I really a follower of Jesus, he who is to come, or am I looking for another? Churches are sometimes full, lots of money is collected but is justice organized? Do our life decisions or life style, make the blind see, the lame walk, and the dead rise? Are we good news to the poor in this world? Maybe God is asking us to do something new to help the blind, deaf, lame, poor and the dead.
I can’t get out of my mind the words of Pope Francis:
Clearly words alone are not sufficient, they must be followed by actions. The pope calls priests and bishops to have “the smell of the sheep”. I notice that in each of his visits to different continents and countries his actions speak so loud that we can’t help but hear the meaning of his words. The same goes for what he says “and does” in Rome: eats with the homeless, sets up showers, appoints and almoner, etc. Do my words and prayers lead to concrete actions? Advent has us preparing for Christmas, but also calls us to get beyond the “baby Jesus” to the Challenging and Prophetic Jesus of “deeds.”
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
We have competing voices calling out to us: on the one hand we have the voices of Empire (no need to spell them out here, we all witness them) and on the other hand we have the Kingdom of God that Jesus announced and calls us to disciple his actions and teachings. His call goes beyond “Me and Jesus”, he went beyond his relationship with the Father to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It is our call too…….