3rd Sunday of Advent
December 15, 2013
2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" 4 Jesus said to them in reply, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me."
7 As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. 9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.10 This is the one about whom it is written: 'Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.'
11 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.
Last Sunday the Gospel text came from an earlier portion of Matthew's Gospel (Mt 3:1-12) that focused on the ministry of John the Baptist preparing for Jesus’s ministry. John addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him, "Who told you to flee from the coming wrath?" (Mt 3:7b) In the last verses of that Gospel, John described his own ministry in comparison to the one for whose coming he was preparing.
“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but 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."
The Jews held open the possibility that the “one to come” might be one like a priest who would help fashion them into a holy people. Others thought it possible that a mysterious figure would make an appearance from the heavens to inaugurate the final realm of God. From last week’s text, it appears as if John expected a powerful ruler, a military ruler, in the line of David, who would forcibly establish God’s realm. There was no clear consensus as to the kind of Messiah God would send.
In the opening verses of this text, John is described as being in prison. He sends his disciples to question Jesus. Is he is the “Christ” (the Greek word for Messiah)? Matthew does not say how much John really knows about the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus, only that he has heard of his works. Jesus does not respond directly to John’s questions. Rather, he asks him to look at what is happening around him: “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.” Jesus does not claim that he personally is doing these things, or even that God is doing them through him. He leaves those conclusions for John to make for himself.
Having told them that John is in prison at this point in his narrative, the community that Matthew was writing for would know that John was facing the possibility of his own execution. In some sense Matthew is asking his audience to place themselves in John’s situation and imagine the kind of questions or doubts John might have as he spends long days and nights alone in his prison cell. Where were the clearing of the threshing floor or the unquenchable fires in Jesus’ ministry? John had to be dealing with a disconnect between the actual ministry of Jesus and his own preaching about the Messiah. Are you the one to come or should we look for another? Have I been misled or mistaken? Because you do not behave like I thought you would.
It is not difficult to believe that John was asking such questions, because Matthew’s community was asking these same type of questions. Jesus’ coming in glory had not happened as they anticipated. The final judgment and day of God’s glory had not happened as they had also anticipated. Now, these questions are for us as well, as people in the midst of Advent. We are being asked to get in touch with our waiting for the “fullness of the coming of God.” This waiting is part of our daily life because the fullness of God has still not yet arrived. During the Advent season, our waiting can be either a source of distraction or a special place of graced encounter with the holy.
1. Do you know people who will be disappointed when Jesus comes in glory if he does not bring the wrath of God upon sinners?
2. What are some of the things for which you have waited a long time?
3. As John sat day after day in prison, what questions do you think he was asking himself? What do you think his prayer to Yahweh was like?
4. Do you feel disappointed in the way God is working in your life, or in the church, or the world?
5. Who are the people in scripture who seem to have the ability to live in faith alongside personal circumstances that suggest that their faith is misguided or even foolish? Who are the saints whose lives speak of a similar story? Do you know people personally whose lives give similar witness to trust and faith despite great obstacles?
6. How does their story affect you?
7. Jesus responds to John's disciples by asking them to take notice of what is happening in the world around them. John and John’s disciples have to decide for themselves whether or not they have to “look for another.” When you look at the events in the world, do you feel that you have to “look for another?”
8. As you celebrate Advent and enter this third week of hope and waiting, what does this Gospel say to you?
On Wednesday of each week, the Gospel and reflection questions for the upcoming Sunday are posted at the following link: http://il-ritiro.org/gospel-reflections.aspx
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The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to email@example.com. Please include these details when printing or forwarding.