by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
[NOTE: During these weeks of Advent our reflections will strike a continuous note: Searching for Hope.]
“Go and tell John what you hear and see.” (Mt 11:14)
Each of the readings for this third Sunday in Advent speaks of assurances that the Lord is coming. For that reason, it is called Gaudete (“rejoice”) Sunday.
The Scripture texts express this belief each in its own way. Typically, the prophet Isaiah, speaking in the name of God, presents a glorious vision of what that day will bring. “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return … crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee” (Is. 35:10).
The always practical apostle James urges the early Christians to “be patient, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming … be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near”
Above all Matthew’s gospel offers the most consoling, insightful and indeed challenging message.
He writes that John the Baptizer once again is taking center stage in the Advent story, but this time in a different, almost off-putting role. No longer is he this “wild man” who has grown up in the desert of Judea, dressed in garments of rough camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. Nor is he the fierce proclaimer of the One coming after him, whose sandals he is not worthy even to carry. He is not the man who confidently acknowledges that “he [Christ] must increase; I must decrease.” Or the accusing prophet who calls out Pharisees and Sadducees as “a brood of vipers” and challenges them “to give some evidence of the repentance they are seeking” as they come to John for his baptism.
Quite the contrary. In this part of the gospel John’s time has nearly come to an end. Still the prophet, he has condemned King Herod for adultery for having married his brother’s wife and it has landed him in prison. Jesus now has become the central figure, amazing the world and gaining numerous followers with his revolutionary message and works of mercy.
Can we imagine John’s state of mind as he languishes in chains knowing not only that his life’s work is finished but that things will not end well for him, trapped as he is in the jail of the vengeful Herod? Can it be that in modern terms John is in the throes of depression and full of doubts, wondering if his life and message have perhaps been futile, that he had been all wrong in proclaiming this Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah?
John gives indications of such a mental state when he sends some of his friends to ask Jesus a remarkable, even desperate, question: “Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for another?”
Jesus’ answer can be taken not only as reassurance for John but for all of us who have placed our ultimate hope in him whom we call the Savior. He cites the marvelous signs he is performing: returning sight to the blind, lifting up cripples, cleansing lepers.
Examples of Jesus’ answers to John appear all around us today — perhaps not in such dramatic ways but no less real. Every human gesture of compassion, of sister- and brotherhood, caring for one another, particularly the sick and elderly; every movement on behalf of peace in our world; every effort to minimize the scandal of world hunger and endemic poverty; coalitions combatting the destruction of our common home – all point to the presence of Jesus. They nurture our Advent reflections and give meaning to our lives. Pope Francis urges us to recognize these signs of Jesus among us so that we will recognize him when he arrives at the end of time.
Above all, Jesus makes claim to his authenticity by adding, “The poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” The great liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, OP, has excitedly cited this as the principal hallmark of the Savior’s arrival. It clearly presents us with a crucial and challenging question: where is the good news preached to the poor today — in our own lives, in the life of the Church and in the country of which we are citizens?
Advent then becomes a significant examination of conscience on every level of our existence.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.