“Are you the one who is to come?”
In his 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?”
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
It’s Gaudete Sunday and you’d expect that all the readings be full of joy. And yet in the gospel we are given what seems to be a very sad reading, because the great John the Baptist…
As we said last week that John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was the precursor of the coming of the Messiah, the long awaited One which all of Israel prayed for, and especially at this time of distress and desperation where they were a fiefdom under the Roman heel, where the majority were poor, where the majority had little hope — except the anawim.
The anawim were the group, as we translate it mostly, “the poor.” And there were many poor, and they continued to follow Jesus and to have great hope.
And then, all of a sudden, we have John the Baptist, the herald, the one who spoke so strong and gathered hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people to wash themselves in the Jordan to prepare themselves for the Messianic era that was to begin when Jesus began his public life.
John is in prison now. Herod’s wife was jealous and had him arrested because he had told Herod that he was not allowed to marry his brother’s wife and Herodias did not forgive him for this and plotted to kill him. And he was in jail and he was set up to be condemned and eventually to have his head chopped off at a drunken Herod birthday party.
Of all people we would never think would doubt, or should doubt, would be John, who knew Jesus as a child, who knew him and played with him and was close to him when he went off into the desert to become and prepare himself for the great role of the prophet, the one who is to come to prepare the way of the Messiah.
But then you begin to wonder a little bit when you read the text again:
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?”
We really don’t know whether John was sending those disciples for his disciples’ good or for his own. Perhaps he was really strong and continued to believe in Jesus and he had no doubts at all. And that is what some say.
But other commentators say human beings have terrible times and John, who was waiting for the Messiah himself, was a human being. He was waiting for the triumph of God over all that had come before and the final appearance of the Messiah. And then the works of Jesus were simple: the blind he helped to see, the deaf hear, preaching the word of God to the poor.
Where were the armies, where was the majesty, where was the great war that would be fought so that the Messiah would triumph in the whole world? And instead he sees Jesus continue to be a simple itinerant preacher.
I think John must have had deep thoughts when he was in that prison. And he was in the dungeon of one of the strongest prisons of the time.
I think Jesus allowed him to have these doubts because he wanted we ordinary people not to be afraid at times to doubt even the most beautiful messages, to be afraid, to run away in fear from what they might demand of us.
Doubting is something that we all have to deal with, especially those who search into the spiritual side of man, because you cannot touch that, you cannot measure it, you cannot give it a value like you can if you’re talking about success in business or farmers farming, things like that.
I think what Jesus was saying, “Tell my disciples what they must do,” because they certainly were doubting that this could possibly be the Messiah.
And what does Jesus say to them? Well, he quotes Isaiah the prophet in the year 700 when it seemed that the whole of Israel would be destroyed by their enemies.
The prophet then said these words: “The blind will see, the lame will walk and the lepers are cleansed and the deaf will hear and the dead will be raised.”
And this is what Jesus quotes to the disciples. “Go back and tell John, this is being done. The blind, you have seen he healed the blind, the blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. And, finally, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
This is the final summary: the poor will have the good news proclaimed to them and blessed is the one who is not offended by this.
This is a very hard saying unless you begin with the end of it and work yourself to what the true meaning is of Jesus’ words.
The poor, who are the poor?
The poor are the anawim of God, those who believe that God is with them or coming to them and will be 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 that the presence of God will be with them and that’s what they’ve been praying for.
And Jesus says, “You have the good news now and I am proclaiming it.”
And what is the good news?
God has come to be with you and to stay with you. God has sent His Son. God Himself has come with him, the Father and the Holy Spirit, and “when you look at me you must see in me the Son of God.”
And if you understand that, then your eyes will see. They won’t see God. God cannot be seen. But “when you see me walking with you and you put your faith in me and put your faith in your Father,” then all these things are already happening, for you see what Jesus sees.
And he sees a world and he will have it and he will make it what his Father intends. And he hears what you hear and he gives this hearing to you so that you might hear the music of God Himself and you might see deep into the meaning of life as long as you see with his eyes.
And you shall dance. Before, you crawled around like broken people, but when you know that God is with you, that God will never leave you, then you will dance and you will sing.
And no matter what the world throws out at you, no matter how much it tries to (inaudible), the final truth is this: God Himself has come into the world in such a special way that the world will never be the same again.
And it is this that the anawim believed in.
And Jesus is saying this is the way it will be done: not with power but with weakness, not with shouting but with soft voices of persuasion, not with any kind of magical magic.
It will be done in the ordinariness of every man’s life and woman’s life, in the ordinariness of life itself, because “I have come to show you, if you follow my eyes, you will see as I see and you will hear what I hear and you will dance as I dance, for God has come to make His home in your heart.”
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. It doesn’t work. We try perhaps to use our talents to create things and make them wonderful and impress everybody. But that doesn’t work.
And what works?
“To see as I see, to hear what I hear, to do what I do.”
And what is the only word that makes this possible?
You are not here to command, you are not here to win, you are not here to triumph. You are here to love each other. And that is the task and Jesus shows us the way.
And that is what he says today in this gospel, not just to the anawim of his time, the poor of his time.
But you must remember this: if you are going to see as he sees and hear as he hears and do as he does, you’re going to have to be 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, He will always be there, for He has come to take up His life and give us His love in every step of the way.