Matthew 11:2-11, Third Sunday of Advent
We just heard the word “joy”, in one form or another, six times.
Isn’t this a naive, childish thing to do in today’s world? After all, the world is still flooded with evil, pain and tears.
Every day the news reports about death in Iraq and Syria, violence in the Middle East, genocide in Africa, natural disasters in Asia and South America.
Every day thousands of babies are killed by abortion, innocent women and children are sold into slavery on the black market, people who seem to have everything plunge into despair and commit suicide. And here, right here in our neighbourhood are people killed every night – about 5,000 already and counting.
Isn’t it selfish and foolish to rejoice in the middle of such a suffering world?
Not at all.
We do not rejoice because we believe Jesus came to bring heaven down to earth. Rather, we rejoice because we know that Jesus came to open a path from earth into heaven. The joy of the Christian is the joy of a hope guaranteed by God himself. This is true joy, the joy of hope, and Christ is its source.
The Gospel gives us an example of a person close to despair whom Jesus tries to give hope in the dark night he experiences.
Things are not going well for John the Baptist in today’s Gospel .We celebrate the Sunday of joy, and what are the first lines of today’s Gospel? “From prison, John the Baptist heard of the works of Christ.
John the Baptist had given everything to God. He had left his home and his family. He lived in total poverty – we can get used to hearing that that he wore clothes made of camel’s hair and he ate locusts and wild honey, but imagine what a camel’s hair shirt would feel like… It’s not exactly an Armani suit. And even if you eat locusts with honey, they are still bugs.
John the Baptist had preached the Kingdom of God; he had given everything to prepare the way for Jesus.
And what’s his apparent reward? Not joy, but he’s in prison. It seems that God is hidden from him, as we might feel sometimes when old age, sickness misunderstandings hit us. John hears about the miracles that Jesus is doing as we do when we read the New Testament, and yet he remains in prison.
He sends his friends to ask the most important question; everything hinges on this question. He asks Jesus: “Who are you?” “Are you the meaning of my life? Are you the mercy of God made visible? I have given everything – even my freedom – for God. Are you his face among us?”
And the answer that Jesus gives to John’s question can seem a bit puzzling. He does not say, “Obviously… Of course I’m the one who is to come. All your difficulties and sufferings are over!”
Jesus is not a toothpaste advertisement – he doesn’t say “buy my product and all your problems will disappear.” Instead he says something rather strange. He says: “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed…”
Jesus is telling John, “You don’t have to understand everything. You are not God. All I ask is that you listen and look at what I’ve done and continue to do in your life and in the lives of others.”
We all have our John the Baptist moments, when nothing seems clear. And in those moments, Jesus is telling us, “Look, and listen.”
On Wednesday we celebrate the feast of St John of the Cross. Towards the end of his life, some members of his Carmelite Order were unhappy with the reforms he was bringing about. They kidnapped him and put him in a dungeon for almost a year.
One of his spiritual directees found out about it, and wrote him a letter to express her horror. And St John’s answer shows that he is someone who had learned to look and listen.
“Do not let what is happening to me, daughter, cause you any grief, for it does not cause me any… Men do not do these things, but God, who knows what is suitable for us and arranges things for our own good. Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.”
When we look, and when we listen, we see the great things God has done in us and through us. It brings to mind the words of Psalm 89: “Forever I will sing the mercies of the Lord.”
And the Mass is the greatest of all mercies. In every Mass we celebrate we look and listen, we see Jesus on the Cross, out of love for us. We see him present in the Eucharist.
In the Mass, Jesus makes everything his own and takes it to the Father. In the Mass, if we allow it, Jesus makes each one of us more and more his own. And no doubt, joy will well up in our often pained hearts.
John the Baptist asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another.”
Here, in the sacrifice of the Mass, we look and we listen for the response to that question; and we receive the greatest answer of all.
We receive Jesus Christ, in his body and in his blood, in his soul and in his divinity. And we experience a presence and a friendship which will last for all eternity. And we are filled with a joy that nobody can take away from us.