Advent III, 2016
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
What an odd question for John to ask—John, who prophesied the coming of the Christ, who recognized Jesus as the Christ at the Jordan River—and now he’s asking, “Who are you?”
Jesus isn’t asked, “Who are you?” very often—it’s usually, “isn’t that the boy from Nazareth?” The other time I can think of that someone asks Jesus who he is, it’s Pilate asking, “Are you the King of the Jews?” John is asking the same question, just as bluntly.
John is not asking at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; as Matthew tells it, after baptism, temptation, and calling the disciples, Jesus has been traveling around proclaiming good news and healing—first healing “every kind of illness and infirmity”, then the Sermon on the Mount; then a series of specific healings. John has been in prison; what has he heard, or what did he expect to hear, having just baptized the Son of God?
Perhaps John is anxious; the world is not going as he expected now that the Messiah is here. The Romans are still ruling; he, John is in prison. And Jesus, who should have fixed all this, isn’t riding around in pomp like a king at the head of an army to throw down the Romans: he’s a homeless man with no visible means of support, an equally no-longer-employed and small group of followers. There are no Christian soldiers marching.
Perhaps John is not only disappointed, he’s doubting. John got a shining moment with Jesus, feeling the Holy Spirit coming down, hearing God’s voice—but he hasn’t seen or felt that since. He is not denying Jesus (as Peter does, later in the story), but he may be doubting what he thought he saw. Maybe this isn’t the Messiah, maybe just another messenger. But I’d note that John, though anxious and afraid and doubting, hasn’t given up. He’s still looking for the Christ, and he’s still looking to Jesus.
John’s position here sounds familiar. He is faced with living where he hoped for a renewed national order, but things are no better. For John things are worse, he’s in prison. Like him, we have anxiety about what is going on around us. Like him, we may doubt that God is acting in the world, even that God can act in the world in our time. But he hasn’t given up.
And now, look at the answer he gets: Go, and tell John what you have seen and what you have heard—not from me, but in the work I am doing healing and proclaiming the Kingdom. Jesus replaces John’s faltering faith with knowledge—remember, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Faith and knowledge are different. John’s disciples are told to give John the witness of what they themselves have seen, what they have heard, of all the things Jesus is doing—and those are, of course, exactly what Isaiah had said would happen when the Messiah came. Then, a good teacher, Jesus does not rebuke John; Jesus praises John as a prophet.
Rejoice! With John, rejoice this Sunday, hearing this—and look again at what is happening around you. We can’t pretend our modern Romans don’t exist, but look how many acts of courage and kindness and help to strangers, good news to the poor, are happening. The stories coming out of the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City are an example, and there are similar stories everywhere. Rejoice; this is Gaudete Sunday, sometimes celebrated with rose-colored vestments and altarpieces; we are closer to the coming of Jesus; we know that he is the Messiah, and we rejoice. Look at the passage from Isaiah; look how often the words Joy, Rejoice, Gladness, Singing occur. This is a time to remember that our God does act in history, has come to us; we have what the writers of the Gospels saw and heard; we have what we see and hear in our time.
Rejoice. Expect the goodness you desire in the world and you will see much of it. Here is what one of the daily Advent meditations from the Society of St. John the Evangelist says of anxiety and hope:
Converted anxiety is hope. Anxiety is dreadful expectation; hope is expectant desire. They are like cousins to each other. Pray for the conversion of your fretful anxiety into promising hope. If you are anxious just now, you are almost already hopeful.
Rejoice in this Sunday in the knowledge that what you hope for is here in our world, in our community. With that hope, that knowledge, go out into the world rejoicing—and doing more to show good news to the world that needs it.
|Dec 11, 2016||Advent 3, 2016||Listen||Download|