Saturday, 10 December 2016


Today I’m going to reflect on the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year, A.      (Matthew 11. 2-11).  This should come as quite a shock      

 Had John the Baptist been wrong about Jesus?   That was the question which tormented the prophet as he languished in prison, awaiting almost certain execution. (Matthew 11. 2-11)

Last Sunday’ Gospel told us that John had aroused great excitement by urging the crowd to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, promised by the prophets.  They were to receive a baptism showing their repentance.   John foretold that when the Messiah did come He would judge and punish sinners.  Soon afterwards John pointed to Jesus as the one for whom they’d all been longing. Dramatically, he pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of the God, who would take away the sins of the world.

 But then, things didn’t work out as John had expected and predicted.   John himself had been imprisoned by King Herod, and knew that he would probably be executed. How could Jesus, the messiah-king, have allowed that, when He should have destroyed every form of evil and established God’s reign of peace and justice? Why hadn’t He replaced Herod as king of the Jews and set God’s prophet free? And Jesus wasn’t showing the wrath of God’s judgement, which John had predicted.  He wasn’t putting the axe to the fruitless tree, or burning the useless chaff, separated from the good grain.

It’s not surprising that John was filled with doubts about Jesus, and also about himself and the role he thought God had given him.  Had John got Jesus wrong?  If so, John’s whole life and mission would have been a dreadful mistake.  He would have given false hope to so many followers.  John desperately needed Jesus to answer his doubts.  So, he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was, in fact, the one they had expected, or should they wait for somebody else. 

When John himself had been asked the same question he gave a straight, clear answer -that. he was not the one God’s people had been waiting for. But surprisingly, Jesus didn’t reassure John’s disciples by saying that he was -or was not -the one sent by God, whom they had been expecting.   Such an explicit admission would have aroused too many misunderstandings about His mission, and would have provoked hostility before He was ready to face it. 

Instead, Jesus pointed to His actions, which revealed the nature of His God-given mission.  Far from being a vengeful messiah, who had come to punish sinners, His mission was to show God’ mercy and compassion.    As He cured the sick and proclaimed the Good News to the poor He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading.  That should reassure John that He was, indeed, the one who was to come.  With Jesus God’s reign had, indeed, already dawned.  A new age had begun. 

And what about John the Baptist himself?  Jesus praises him as the greatest of the prophets, who actually pointed to Jesus as the one who would fulfil His people’s longings.   And yet the Baptist’s understanding of how the Messiah would fulfil His mission didn’t fit in with the prophet’s expectations of Him.   It’s not surprising that that led John to have doubts about Jesus. 

The disciples would have the same problem in understanding what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ-messiah king.  That would only become clear in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection.  That’s why Jesus says the children of the kingdom, who have the insight of the Christian faith, are greater than the greatest prophet who pointed to Jesus, but didn’t really understand His mission, which had only just begun. 

Like John, we can make the mistake of deciding what Jesus should be like and how He should behave.   When He doesn’t fit in with our expectations we can become disappointed in Him.  But like John, we must learn to welcome Jesus on His own terms and allow Him to be Himself.  Like John, we may not yet see the whole picture. That can lead us have only a partial, distorted understanding of God’s plans. 

But John was willing to learn from Jesus Himself and correct his mistaken ideas about Him.  If we do that, we will find that His love and mercy exceed our wildest dreams.  Christmas reminds us we must be prepared for God to act in surprising and unexpected ways; we must learn to trust His wisdom, which we may not understand. 

A final thought, to prove that He was, indeed, the expected Messiah Jesus pointed to His actions, not  to His teaching.  In the same way, our behaviour will be a far more convincing proof, than anything we may say about Jesus, as to whether or not we are really His followers.

Isidore Clarke O.P.

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