Sunday, December 11, 2016

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Cycle A Dec 11, 2016

In the Gospel today we hear again about John the Baptist.  Just like we did the last two Sundays.  John the Baptist IS the Advent figure par excellence!
          But today’s Gospel finds John in prison.  Not only that, John seems perplexed, confused, befuddled.   Is Jesus the one or not???
          Well, obviously John cannot go and ask Jesus himself, since John is locked up.  So instead John sends his followers, his disciples to ask Jesus this very important question: “Are YOU the one we are waiting for?”   “Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”    
          I find this very curious.  I mean John the Baptist is the precursor, the one who was to go before the Lord and prepare his way.  That is John’s whole job, his entire reason for being.  And yet he is not sure if Jesus is the one or not??  
          Well, it seems that John had pretty definite ideas about what the Messiah was supposed to look like and what he was supposed to do.  And basically, the Messiah was supposed to establish God’s reign in power and majesty, primarily by smiting all the sinners, evil doers, and those who ignored God’s Will for their own will.  As we heard John declare last week in the Gospel:  the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.   I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.  He will clear his threshing floor 
and gather his wheat into his barn, 
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
          John is a pretty forceful, fiery preacher, and he is looking for a very strong, powerful, mighty Messiah who will smite the ungodly.  John is squarely in the tradition of Old Testament Prophets of Fire and Judgement!
          But that is not what Jesus does.  Jesus announces GOOD NEWS.   Jesus preaches about God’s love.  He forgives people.  He heals people.  He eats with sinners.  He does all the wrong things according to John, and doesn’t smite a single sinner. So John is confused, and sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the one or not.
The early Church Fathers found this kind of embarrassing.  Shouldn’t John have known???  So they explained it by saying that John asked the question only to guide his disciples to Jesus.  That is kind of lame.  No, I think John was genuinely perplexed.  Jesus is NOT what John was expecting.
          Jesus’ answer is very interesting.  He lists His healings. ““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.”
          Instead of smiting sinners, Jesus forgives and heals them.  He does something different and unexpected, but even better.  Jesus inaugurates God’s reign not by blasting sinners and eliminating them, but by forgiving and healing them.

Personally, I find John the Baptist’s problem very reassuring.   If John the Baptist, the precursor, the one assigned to prepare the way of the Lord; if he could have difficulty recognizing Jesus, then maybe it is not so surprising that often I have a hard time recognizing Jesus.  Perhaps I can get a little slack in my failure at times to truly recognize Jesus.   Anyone else here have difficulty recognizing Jesus in your daily life?
          I think this is true because Jesus often comes in ways we don’t expect. Like John the Baptist we have rather clear ideas about what Jesus is supposed to do and be.  But Jesus is not bound by that.  Maybe Jesus comes to us as a person in need, or a bothersome relative, or even in the guise of an enemy.  Perhaps Jesus approaches us someday as a homeless person, as Jesus appeared as a beggar to St Martin of Tours.  Mother Teresa of Kolkuta saw Jesus in the dying poor.  Maybe Jesus comes to us when the Holy Spirit urges us to hold our tongue, to be a little extra generous, to be patient with our crabby neighbor.  Maybe we even see Jesus in the honesty and generosity of an atheist, or in the commitment, tenderness and love between a same sex couple. Maybe Jesus shows Himself in ways that we totally don’t expect. 
          This Advent we are called to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.  We are called to open ourselves and our lives for Him to live more fully and completely in us.  But not only in the ways we expect, but also, and perhaps even more, in the ways we don’t expect.  Jesus comes, as He did that first time so many years ago in Galilee, bringing healing, forgiveness and life.  Be prepared to be surprised.


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