Dec. 15, 2019

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, 2019

A CLEAN CREDENTIAL

Readings: 1st- Is. 35:1-6a, 10; 2nd- Jas. 5:7-10; Gospel- Matt. 11:2-11

The signs of the coming of God’s kingdom are amazing: an extraordinary renewal of land and people. That’s the message of the prophet Isaiah from the first reading. He declares a restoration that seems beyond human imagination, “the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” God simply breathes life into everything. Isaiah’s prophecy is not just about the personification of non-living things but importantly about the new life meant for human creatures. The glory of God’s kingdom will transform everyone and like the light, will shine on all peoples. God comes to strengthen the weak, to steady feeble hands and to bring comfort to the frightened. God’s coming ushers in hope for his people. He is not a stranger as Isaiah declares, “Here is your God,” who comes “to save you.” God’s presence will open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf. It will make the lame walk. God is the one to break all barriers and bring everyone into one fold.

Isn’t that what Christ demonstrated by his presence in the gospel? John is in prison when Christ makes his public appearance. John hears the miracles that Christ is performing. John knows the characteristics of this Messiah whose coming he vehemently proclaimed and defended. He is imprisoned for the same reason. Is John upset that Christ does not come to free him from the prison gates? Maybe he is a bit worried. He seems anxious, perhaps wants to confirm that he was bearing an authentic witness. John sends for verification. He sends his disciples to find out from Christ himself, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John wants to hear from the man whose coming he announced, the one whose sandals he stated that he wouldn’t be able to unstrap.  

Jesus’ response to John’s disciples goes back to the prophecy of Isaiah in the Old Testament. He invites them to see for themselves; it is called “evidence-based” treatment. His vocation is to make all things new, to bring back hope for hopeless humanity. For Jesus, it is not only about what they hear, but also about the proofs of the transcendental presence of God among his people. He says to them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matt. 11:4-5). It’s like saying to them:  “Ask John, isn’t that what he proclaimed? Isn’t that the meaning of his preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near?”

Having addressed them, Jesus makes a remark which I think is what considering here, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Matt. 11:6). Remember that John is in prison at this time. He is suffering for Christ, for preaching and for defending the Messiah. John preached repentance because Christ was coming. Now, he sends his disciples to confirm from Jesus if he is the one or not. Using human terms, we might conclude that John might be sad at what was happening. That John seems frustrated that Jesus isn’t organizing a crusade against the government that has incarcerated him. But that’s not what John does here. He sends his disciples to gently confirm from Jesus, that way, he knows that he is suffering for the real person. John does not seem to regret his experience. That is why Jesus declares John “blessed.” He does not take offense at Jesus. Joh. Gets the cleanest credential.

A few days ago, someone called me and was very furious with God. She is sick and the mom is sick too. This lady is the one taking care of the mom. But she is not able to do that now because of her poor health condition. She is angry for several reasons. She feels guilty that she is not able to take care of her mom. She can’t do what she does ordinarily. Before now, she’s been angry at God for not making her mom well all these years, in fact, for making her mom sick. Now she is twice angry at God for letting her get sick and not able to attend to her mom. Her anger might be founded but the question is whether that would help. Of course, not! 

Using John the Baptist’s case, Christ teaches us another way to deal with suffering. Unite your suffering with Christ’s suffering. It becomes a transforming experience, one that liberates. John is not freed from the human prison but receives the affirmation of a totally freed person in the kingdom of heaven. Christ writes his credentials. He declares John to be the greatest born of women not because simply because of his steadfastness. He gives John the best assessment that God could ever give to any human being. 

As John’s disciples leave, Jesus speaks of his mission and the reward that awaits John. John is a prophet. He spent his time mostly in the desert. John is firm and convinced about what he preached. John isn’t worried about material things. John is God’s messenger, sent ahead to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus declares, “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11). What an assessment! When God bears witness for a human being, eternity is guaranteed.  

As we prepare for the coming of Christ, let us pray that God gives us a clean credential. A clean credential comes from bearing witness with our lives. A clean credential comes from commitment. A clean credential comes from steadfastness in the midst of suffering. A clean credential comes through spiritual transformation, the poor in spirit. It comes when we understand the will of God in our lives and let it reign supreme. Even if God does not give you the immediate desires of your heart (possibly physical wellness), spiritual healing is important. St. James says, “Do not complain, brothers and sisters,” then Christ says, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” A clean credential is given to the one who does not complain against God. With a clean credential, the least in heaven is greater than the greatest on earth. God gives the cleanest credential.