“Are you the one who is to come?”
In this short homily for 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A, Father Hanly looks at John the Baptist’s question to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Readings for Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
- First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
- Second Reading: James 5:7-10
- Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
John the Baptist is in prison now. Herod’s wife, Herodias, had John arrested because John condemned Herod for marrying her in violation of Old Testament law.
And it was while John was in prison that Jesus began his public ministry.
Now, one person we would never think would doubt, or should doubt, would be John the Baptist.
He had baptised Jesus and he knew Jesus as a child, he knew him and played with him and was close to him right up to the time that John left to go into the desert.
John went into the desert to prepare himself for the great role of the last and final prophet of the children of Israel, the one who was to prepare the way of the Messiah.
But when John heard in prison of the works and words of Jesus, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the One who is to come or should we look for another?”
We really do not know whether John was sending his disciples to Jesus for his disciples’ good or for his own. Perhaps he was really strong to the end and continued to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and he had no doubts about it at all, and that is what some commentators say.
But other commentators say that human beings often experience terrible times and John was a human being, alone and very vulnerable. He, too, was waiting for the appearance of the Messiah and the triumph of God over everybody and everything that had come before.
Then, too, the works and the words of Jesus were simple and not so dramatic. The blind he helped to see, the deaf to hear. He was preaching a quiet word of God to the poor.
Where was the grandeur? Where were the armies? Where was the great war that would be fought so that the Messiah would triumph over the whole world?
Instead, what he sees is Jesus humbly walking with ordinary and poor people, like a simple itinerant preacher, watching over and taking care of his little flock.
I think John must have had deep thoughts when he was in that dark prison all by himself, and he was in the dungeon of one of the worst prisons of the time.
I think Jesus allowed John to have these doubts, because he wanted we ordinary people not to be afraid at times to doubt even the most beautiful of messages, not to be afraid at times to run away in fear from what Jesus might be asking of us.
Doubting is something that we all have to deal with, and I think what John was saying was, “Tell my disciples you are the One sent by God, you are really and truly the Messiah.” John was reassuring them because the disciples certainly were having doubts that this was indeed the Messiah that they were waiting for.
And what does Jesus say to them?
Well, he quotes from Isaiah the prophet many centuries before, at a time when the children of Israel faced total destruction at the hands of their enemies.
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.”
Now this ending might seem harsh and hard to take, unless you really understand what Jesus is saying.
The poor, who are the poor?
The poor are the anawim of God, those who believe, through thick and thin, with their whole hearts, that God is with them.
It is God who they believe in totally and completely. They don’t believe in systems. They don’t believe in money. They don’t believe in power. They believe in God and that the presence of God is always with them. It’s all a matter of love.
And what is the good news?
God Himself has come into the world in such a special way that the world will never be the same again.
And Jesus is saying, this is the way it will be done, not with power but with meekness, not with shouting but with soft voices of persuasion, not with any kind of magic, it will be done in the ordinariness of every man’s life and every woman’s life, in the ordinariness of life itself.
Because as Jesus says: “I have come to show you, if you follow me, how you too will see as I see, and you will hear what I hear, and you will dance as I dance, for God has come to stay, to make His home in our hearts.”
This then is Jesus’ message and, of course, John understood.
It couldn’t come by power, this kingdom. We’ve tried power. We keep trying power. It doesn’t work. We try money: buying things, building things, having things. It doesn’t work. We try perhaps to use our talents to create things and make them wonderful and impress everybody with our cleverness, but that doesn’t work.
And what works?
Jesus would say: “To see the world as I see it, to hear what I hear, to do what I do.”
And what is the only word that makes this possible?
We are not here to command, we are not here to win, we are not here to triumph. We are here to love each other and care for each other, and that is the task and Jesus, Our Lord, shows us the way.
That is what Jesus says today in this gospel, not just to the anawim of his time, the poor of his time, but to all of us here and now.
However, you must remember this: if you are going to see as Jesus sees and hear as he hears and do as he does, you’re going to have to become one of the anawim.
Because the definition of the anawim is, “those who know their need for God.” And if you know your need for God, God will always be there, for Jesus has come to take up this life and give us his love every step of the way.