First Reading: Is 35:1-6a.10; Psalm: 146. R. v. Is 35:4; Second Reading: Jas 5:7-10; Gospel: Mt 11:2-11
THE BAPTIST’S CRISIS
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
On the day of my priestly ordination held in my seminary compound in Gwagwalada, Abuja, Nigeria; I happened to use the seminary’s refectory as my ordination reception venue. Prior to my reception party, there were these three boys that volunteered to mop the floor before the interior decorator started decorating the venue. I gladly accepted their offer. During the reception, the venue was packed full of guests; both the invited and uninvited who came to share in my joy. The food couldn’t go round because the number of guests was more than planned.
At the end of the celebration, the three boys who earlier offered to mop the venue walked up to me with angry faces expressing their displeasure for not receiving any food to eat after toiling for me. I remembered one of them said to me in Nigerian Pidgin English, “Common ‘pure water’ I no see to drink.” In a sense, he was saying that he did not even receive water to drink. These boys came to me because they expected me to do something about their situation. And they felt I owed them at least some rewards since they worked for me.
Sometimes in life, we claim certain indebtedness just because we offered some services out of goodwill or duty.
In the gospel of today, the good deeds of Jesus got to the ears of John who was now incarcerated. By all accounts, John was not surprised at the wonderful works of Jesus. It doesn’t also seem that he was in complete doubt if Jesus was the expected Messiah. After all, it was John who openly bore witness to Jesus at the Jordan when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’” (Jn 1:29-30).
John also witnessed at Jesus’ baptism how the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove. And the voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt3:17). One would then wonder why John had to send some of his disciples to inquire if Jesus was the awaited Messiah or if they would have to wait for another.
But we know there are indirect ways of passing a message through questions. Questions do not always imply ignorance of what was asked. Sometimes, questions could be a way of calling ones attention to something presumably neglected. For instance, a woman who fell into a pit and saw her husband came around and passed by without helping her, could easily yell out at him “Are you sure you’re my husband!” That question does not demand an answer but calls the attention of the husband to his responsibility towards her.
The crisis John was facing was that he couldn’t understand why Jesus seemingly felt unconcerned about his predicament. Jesus was out there healing and setting the handicapped free. Something John’s disciples would eventually witness and returned to report to John. But John’s bewilderment was why Jesus said or did nothing about his unfortunate situation after he had toiled preaching and baptising penitents in preparation for his coming. John perhaps could be wondering “What exactly did I do wrong?”
John obviously did nothing wrong. Jesus even had to publicly extol him. A clear sign that he did not resent but appreciated John. For Jesus acknowledged John as a great prophet and rated him as the greatest of all men. But he did nothing to save him. However, the concluding statement of Jesus to John’s disciples could serve as an antidote to douse the frustration of John – “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
We all have the leeway to claim that we do not deserve certain treatments or rewards in life. And in truth, according to human judgment, we do not. Sometimes, we burn out ourselves working for a promotion in our offices and someone who doesn’t put much effort as we do gets the promotion. People have gotten themselves into trouble, robbed or even killed whilst trying to render some help. The deal we have not been lucky to close for some months could easily be given to someone who does not even need it as urgently as we do. We can at times feel so cheated by opportunities and rewards.
In situations like this, should we blame God for not coming through? Jesus is reminding us today that blessed are those who do not feel sad or disillusioned with God but trust and hope in him despite their predicaments. ‘Because those who wait upon the Lord will have their strength renewed.’ (Is 40:31). Our faith and hope in the Lord should therefore not fail us. For God is not unaware of our situations. He has his way of making things right. ‘Although our sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ (Ps 30:5).
So, as we celebrate today the third Sunday of advent also known as “Gaudete Sunday”, this should be our take-home message. A message that reiterates our reason to rejoice not particularly for the present but for what is to come. “Gaudete” is a Latin word meaning “Rejoice”. So the message today is very clear. Rejoice for your salvation is close.
I know that some of us have several reasons not to rejoice this season because we are stuck in our present blue conditions especially as Christmas approaches. Perhaps we are wondering, “Would my son who blacked out on me choose to visit this Christmas?” “Would my daughter who just lost her job be able to send some money for my Christmas shopping?” “Could my wife give me a reason to be joyful this Christmas by finding a space in her heart to forgive me for hurting her?” “Would I be able to provide at least the necessary groceries for my family this Christmas?” If we kept our hope buried in our iffy present situations especially as we see other people enjoy what we presently do not have, we may not find any reason to rejoice this season. This was the very prison John found himself trapped in.
But the prophet Isaiah encourages us in the first reading not to be despondent. Instead, we should trust in God and “Be strong and fear not! For behold our God comes with vengeance and recompense. And he will save us.” So, as we wait on the Lord, let us not grumble as the second reading urges us. But emulate the farmer’s kind of patience. Who plants and waits for the early and late rains for the crops to sprout. And when our blessings eventually begin to sprout; we would realise they are worth the waiting.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for the grace not to lose faith and hope in you even in our darkest moments. Amen.