3rd Sunday of Advent
by Fr. Jack McArdle
GOSPEL : Matthew 11:2-11
Long before Jesus came, the prophet Isaiah spelt out the signs that would distinguish him as the Messiah. "When he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will shout and sing". When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus if he really were the Messiah, Jesus simply asked them to look around and see for themselves. The words of the prophet were being fulfilled right there before their eyes. Jesus then went on to give John the highest possible commendation, because John had fulfilled his own mission with total fidelity, and was now in jail for his courage and his commitment. John had prepared the way for Jesus, and, in his own words, he then got out of the way. "I must decrease so that he can increase".
The early followers of Jesus came on the scene in the context of a time when they must have sounded like visitors from outer space. Everything they did and said was completely against the norms of life at that time. The Jews were totally bound up in the total commitment to law, and the law, in all its details, took precedence over everything else. The early Christians spoke of, and practised a law of love, where love took precedence. The Romans were into power, conquest, and the spreading of their Empire, while the early Christians spoke of poverty, of sharing, and of surrender. They spoke of power in weakness, of victory through forgiveness, and of a Kingdom that ran contrary to every accepted definition of the day. Amidst all the puzzlement, there was one thing about them that drew equal acknowledgement from all who watched them. "See how these Christians love one another". Their actions spoke louder than their words. Like Jesus with the disciples of John, they witnessed in their own lives the very message that they preached. Giving witness is the only authentic way to preach or to spread the Gospel. What I am is my message, not what I say. If I enter your house and tell you I have measles, when I actually have chickenpox, which are you likely to catch?!
Isaiah had foretold the signs. Jesus pointed to the signs as proof of who he was. Before leaving his apostles, he commissioned them to go forth, and spread the Good News among all the nations. "And these are the signs that shall accompany those who believe in me : The blind will see, the lame will walk, and the poor will have good news preached to them".
Let go, and let God. Like John, I begin to get out of the way, once I stop trying to play God. Only God can do God-things. I am powerless over persons, places, and things. Only God can change the human heart, including, of course, my own heart. Because of original sin, (and the freewill which God gave his people) God's creation was totally messed up, so Jesus came to set things right again. Once Jesus appears on the scene, it is time for us mere mortals to get out of the way, and let him do what is needed. Like John the Baptist, we can prepare the way, and make straight the paths, as we unwrap the deceits, the sins, and the sickness that he has come to remove.
"I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist". The greatness of the Baptist came from his humility, and his willingness to yield to someone greater than himself. Many of the people believed him to be the Messiah, but he strongly denied it, and would not allow anyone afford him the rightful place reserved for the One who would follow him, the One for whom he was preparing the way. There is a striking similarity between Mary and John the Baptist. They kept Jesus and his message at the centre of all that they did, and, in a way, they were like signposts pointing to Jesus.
Look again at the people whom the world calls great. Many of them may be great, by any standards, but some may appear to have feet of clay, when compared to the standard of greatness proposed by Jesus. It takes true greatness to be able to forgive, to admit that I'm wrong, to turn to another and ask for help. It takes true greatness to minister with great love to those who, because of a mental disability, are unable to say 'thanks'. These angels of charity are the greatest people on earth.
How great Thou art, how great Thou art. If you were to write your own obituary notice, what are the things in your life that could deserve the term great, in that their value is eternal, and will continue long after your departure from this earth?
Look again at the little people in your life, those who carry out the day-to-day humdrum services that keep life going all around you. Can you find any greatness among them? Begin with those closest to you, the ones you are more inclined to take for granted. It was Jesus who said that the prophet is never accepted in his own home.
Like an alcoholic trying to attain and maintain sobriety without the help of a Higher Power, can you identify some one thing in your life that can be changed or improved, only if you are willing to get out of the way, and let God be God? God is, as it were, on standby, waiting and willing to move in, and do for you something that you have been unsuccessfully struggling with for years.
Jesus was lavish in his praise for John. He was grateful for what John had done. Find someone in your life who has merited your gratitude, and who deserves your praise, and follow the example of Jesus..... I sometimes joke that if you want to hear something nice about a person, you will have to wait for the funeral! Why not send someone the flowers when she can still smell them? They're of little use to her on the lid of her coffin!
As you go away from church today, could you tell someone else, in a few simple words, something important that you heard here this morning? If you can think of what it is, and remember it, maybe you'll get a chance to share that with someone today.
An old missioner in Africa had reached the end of his days, and he was recalled to Ireland, to retire in a purpose-built retirement home. He had been an extraordinary man of God, and of common-sense goodness. He became totally involved with the people. He helped them with their crops, with their animals, and in building their make-shift houses. His life was his greatest sermon, and, when he did preach, he did so in their language, and he spoke about things that were part of their everyday lives and experiences.
He was being replaced by a newly ordained priest, fresh from a brilliant academic preparation in Rome, and someone who was going places in the institutional Church. The old man was asked to remain on for a while to act as interpreter; and, as the young man was so intelligent, this would be for a very limited period of time. The first Sunday, the young man got up to speak. His opening sentence was "God is infinite in his nature, and transcendental in his essence". He paused for a moment to allow for a translation. The old man was seen to have a look of puzzlement on his face, as yanked up the twine holding up his trousers, scratched his head, thought for a while, and then spoke: "He said that he's awful glad to be with you"!
By their fruits you will know them…..These are the signs that will accompany those who speak in my name………..
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And That's The Gospel Truth copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.