December 11, 2016
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
Mt 11: 2-11
Last Sunday we left John the Baptist, who, in the desert, announced the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of heaven and called all to conversion.
Today we find him once more: no longer in the dazzling light of the desert, but in the darkness of a prison; no longer decisive and confident in proclaiming the advent of a God who is stern and who is a judge, but in the terrible doubt of having got it all wrong, in the bewilderment and the astonishment that what he had come to know about this Messiah, who he had been the first to acknowledge, but that now no longer recognized.
A Messiah who did not match the idea that he had sketched and that he had spread: this Jesus did not solve evil at its roots, he did not punish the wicked, he did not eliminate injustices, and he did not carry on any a political revolt.
Rather, He wanted all types of people as disciples, He associated with sinners, and He had particular favor for the least…
He seemed to know more the tones of tenderness and patience than those of anger and judgment. He was truly other than what the Baptist was waiting for, the one for whom he had prepared the way.
It was not the first time that the presence of Jesus disturbed the Baptist: Matthew places the event of Jesus’ baptism immediately after the verses read last Sunday (Mt 3:13-17). The awaited Messiah is in solidarity with every man, and humbly enters into history, assuming fully his need for salvation.
And here arises the first question of John: “I need to be baptized by you and you come to me?” (Mt 3:14). That is, immediately Jesus presents himself with a reversal, a paradox, incomprehensible to the secure faith of the Baptist.
Today we find another question of the Baptist; the second. It seems that Jesus has aroused, only in John, many questions…
So John is in prison, imprisoned by Herod Antipas (cf. Mt 14:3ff), and sends messengers to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Mt 11:3); a question that expresses his complete astonishment, his uneasiness.
Jesus does not answer, but sends the messengers back to John; he does not resolve his doubt, he does not seek to reassure him nor to convince him.
Simply he asks him to look at the works that he is doing, of which Jesus makes some sort of a list, that reechoes the messianic oracles of the prophet Isaiah (Is 29:18-19). Thus, he points out to him that yes, it is really him that he was expecting, and makes him understand that what the prophet foretold is fulfilled in Him.
Jesus puts the facts before the eyes of John, and does not add anything new to what the Baptist already knows. Because it is not a matter of knowing something more, but of being converted to the news that Jesus is bringing.
John is called to be converted, and his conversion is a difficult one. The Baptist is called to enter into the Gospel of the Kingdom and into its new justice, which is different from what he imagined and expected.
Jesus does not answer directly to the question of John, because only John can give the answer: it is he who must take the responsibility of choosing who to await.
And the answer he must not seek afar, in the past, in his ideas, but in everyday life. Seen from the side of the humble and the small things, of the humble and the ordinary transformations that make up the journey of life.
The greatness of John was that of being kept within this hinge, this transition, between the old and the new. Within a doubt that would have surely pierced his heart: faith is born there, within this abyss that salvation, when it comes and when it is true, stirs up in everybody.
Since it always passes through other routes, it is likely to scandalize, yet this is the price to pay so that faith might mature. If not, it will continue to wait for a grandiose God, and it will not know to how to recognize him when He will be hidden within the humility of life, of history and of the brethren.
We began Advent with an invitation to await and stay awake.
Then we discovered that awaiting requires “only” to make room for him, and the space that coincides with poverty of the heart that recognizes one’s sin and submits to the Lord.
Today we learn that awaiting means to let oneself be surprised, because the One we await is always other than the one we already know.
And the right way is not that of the Baptist, who thinks that one should wait for another Messiah, but it is to convert ourselves to another expectation.
Then the Lord could grant what we do not even dare to hope for.
Illustration picture : Christ with Saint John the Baptist, mosaics of Hagia Sofia, Istanbul.