Friday, December 13, 2019

Gospel text for 3rd Sunday of Advent 15 December 2019

Matthew 11:2-11        When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Reflection       According to Maimonides, the Jewish scholar, rabbi and physician who is to Judaism what St. Thomas Aquinas is to Christianity, belief in the eventual coming of a Messiah is a fundamental part of Judaism. Maimonides describes the “one who is to come,” the messiah,  this way. “A king shall arise from among the House of David, studying Torah and occupied with commandments like his father David...  and he will impel all of Israel to follow it and to strengthen breaches in its observance, and will fight God's wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built the Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the dispersed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together…”  

This being the job description of the messiah for whom John is looking, it is no wonder John sent his disciples to question Jesus, “Are you the one who is coming or are we to wait for another?” Surely John heard about “all the things” that Jesus was doing; giving sight to the blind, restoring the lame to walk, cleansing the lepers, healing the deaf and raising the dead.  If he has not seen, surely he has heard about  the great crowds from Syria, Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem and Judea streaming to follow Jesus.

Rumors must have been rampant about Jesus’ mind-bending mountaintop sermon proclaiming the poor and the hungry are blessed, the meek who understand their place in God’s kingdom are happy and those who are just and sincere are satisfied. (Matt 5.1-11)  John had to be scratching his beard and wondering how Jesus' lengthy list of accomplishments coupled with his catalog of blessings could possibly align with the expected Messiah’s job description. 

From the point of view of John and the religious Jews of his time, Jesus does not fit the Messiah’s job description. This remains true today. Although many Jews understand Jesus to be an exemplary prophet, he fails to gather the “dispersed ones of Israel together.” Jesus cannot be the anointed one because he fails  to enforce the letter of the law and “to mend the entire world to worship the Lord together.”  

John the Baptist is more than perplexed by Jesus. The one whom John baptized in the river Jordan, the one whose sandals John was not worthy to tie, the one upon whom the Spirit of God descended, the “one who is to come” and bring the “kingdom of heaven near” turns out to be the unorthodox dissident, Jesus. How could this be the one John is looking for? How could Jesus  be the Messiah John is hoping for?  John’s expectations about what the messiah should look like prevent him from recognizing the Messiah as he is.

Which begs the question;  What are we hoping against hope will arise in the wilderness of our lives? What expectations, beliefs or preconceived notions make us deaf and blind and unreceptive to the”one who is to come?” Whom are we looking for this Advent season? An autocratic king wielding power from an imperious precipice, bursting onto the scene for a grand rescue intervention? Or a humble servant born to birth the Spirit of the living God in the heart of every one of us? 

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