December 15, 2013
3rd Sunday of Advent,
(edited and revised from a previous
Homily posted 12.5.2010)
Advent Week Three offers us a sober picture of what it often means to follow the Christ -- prison, persecution and eventually death. Not exactly what you want on a recruiting poster for the faith, which is probably why this part of discipleship is left out or left to the fine print in our Gospel presentations ("They'll find out soon enough," we reason!).
This part of the discipleship presentation may also be neglected because, at least in the West, we have not suffered for our faith in very a long time. The hegemony that Christendom once had in the West insured this lack of persecution, but of course the hegemony could only be maintained by softening the Gospel demands. Said another way, if the church in the West had ever really attempted to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom -- dropping out of the culture of consumption and declaring Jesus as the present and future King -- then many would have eventually ended up in prison as well.
In today's Lectionary Gospel reading we continue with the story of John the Baptizer, who now finds himself in King Herod’s prison because the monarch was unable to stomach the repentance message aimed at his own behavior — he had married his brother’s ex-wife. (cf Mt. 14:1-12) This meant the Baptizer's public ministry was essentially over, but its effect, as we now know, would linger in the ministry of the Anointed One. Thus, the preacher of repentance is locked up, but the person of the Kingdom, the actual King, had arrived and was marching to the front. Therefore, an important transition was occurring. (cf. Jn.3:30)
We do not really know the motive as to why John sends word to Jesus, asking him to identify himself plainly, but N.T. Wright suggests that it could be Jesus was not even what John expected in the Messiah. It could be that John expected the bringer of fire and judgment, but Jesus was presenting message of restoration and not judgment.
Somehow, things just did not add-up in John's mind. Was Jesus the real deal, or not? So, he sends word to Jesus in the form of a question:
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Jesus' answer is instructive and powerful for us to hear.
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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.
This opens to us the Advent windows into the text...