15 December 2013
A 25-year-old young woman was explaining to her cousin about her relationship with her boyfriend Marco. She said that they had been together for 2 years. He often told her that he loved her and would sometimes give her gifts. She hoped they would marry. So one day she said to him. ‘I believe that you love me and I hope it is true. But how do I know for sure? He replied, ‘tomorrow you will know for sure’. When they met the following day he took an engagement ring out of his pocket and put it on her finger and asked her to marry him. She told her friend: ‘that deed was more convincing than all the words of love that he had previously spoken to me’.
John the Baptist in the gospel today is like that. He has heard many words spoken about Jesus and he has been hoping that Jesus is the Messiah who is to come. Now John is in prison and he wants to know if Jesus is the One to come so John sends his disciples off to ask this of Jesus. Jesus points to his deeds as proof. John when he appeared in the wilderness was a real ascetic, dressed in a garment made of camel hair with a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. Contrasted to this Jesus frequently attended banquets and meals offered him by the well-off.
John also would have had difficulty with the attitudes and preaching of Jesus which differed much from his own. John preached the gospel of divine holiness with divine destruction. He warned that if people did not repent and turn away from their sins they would burn in a fire that would never go out. Jesus came and preached the gospel of holiness with divine love. He spoke of God’s great compassion and forgiveness. In his parables he uses the images of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal Son etc to speak of God’s incredible determination to save all even at the cost of the life of Jesus on the cross.
So when Jesus came it looked completely different from what John expected. Indeed it was hardly recognisable. Does this not happen to our expectations too? Do we have the humility to let go of our false images of God, our prejudices and allow God to change us as he wishes? Can we let go of the idea that religion is about following rules and laws that certainly have their place, in order to hear the call to an interior conversion? What John the Baptist wanted, comes to pass but not from preaching a religion of fear. It comes from within. It is not whipped into place with a rod of iron and threats of eternal damnation, instead it grows out of the power of Jesus loving us, forgiving us and calling us to discipleship.
For me perhaps the hardest message to get across is that God is a God of Love. Many people seem to think that it depends on our being virtuous. Then God will reward us. This is a Profit and Loss approach to God. The more good I do here the more merit is credited to my heavenly account. But if I Iive immorally and do bad things this is held against me. When I die the two sides are balanced and depending on which is greater I will go to heaven or hell. This is as far from Christianity as one could imagine. Of course we try to live as well as we can, be a kind, forgiving and helpful as possible but only as a response of gratitude to our Loving God who offers his friendship and eternal life freely. Sadly we can refuse to want this. The whole life of Jesus was to tell sinners and outcasts that they were loved and accepted by God. ‘Come to me all you who labour and are heavily burdened’, he once said. No wonder people, especially the sinners, flocked to Jesus to hear his Good News.
In the gospel Jesus highly praises John. ‘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’. What did John lack? What is it that the Christian has that John never could have? The answer really is simple. John had never seen the cross. Therefore he could never have known the full revelation of God’s love. The holiness of God he might know, the justice of God he might declare but the love of God in its fulness in allowing Jesus to die on the cross he could never have known. No one would really have called John’s message Good News. It was basically a threat of destruction if one did not repent. It took Jesus and his Cross to show us the length and breadth, the depth and height of God’s incredible passionate, unconditional love for us humans.
The things Jesus did in Galilee he still does. If we are blind to the truth about God, others, and ourselves he opens our eyes if we ask him. If we are lame in the sense that we find it hard to stay on the right path, he will strengthen us. If we suffer from the leprosy of sin he will cleanse us if we pray for this. Those of us who are dead to the voice of God and conscience will be able to listen. If we feel dead and powerless to love God he will give us new life if we honestly want it and ask humbly for it.
John prepared for the coming of Jesus but he could never have dreamed of the Good News that Jesus preached by his words and his life.
“Lord Jesus, help us to fully believe the Good News as you reveal it to us. Amen.”
Fr Jim Kirstein, SMA