Third Sunday of Advent
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
December 10, 2022
“Are You the One Who Is to Come?”
COVID, as all of us know so well, took a tremendous toll. Many lost their lives and others experienced grave illness. For many families and individuals, COVID brought with it loneliness and isolation. And, as we know, when we are alone and isolated for long periods, many questions and emotions crowd in upon our minds and hearts. We may brood about things, entertain doubts, struggle with our feelings. We find ourselves looking for reassurance from those we trust and love.
Perhaps that common experience helps us understand the surprising question which the imprisoned John the Baptist asked of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Are you the One Who Is to Come [i.e., the Messiah], or should we look for another?” His question surprises us because, while ministering in the desert, John the Baptist seemed to have recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Now he asks, “Are you the One Who Is to Come, or should we expect another?” Crouched in a dark prison cell, isolated and alone, yet still “pure of heart”, John the Baptist wanted to believe in Jesus, but he also wanted assurance. Was Jesus truly the promised Messiah foretold by the prophets? Nothing else mattered to John. Not his health or safety. Not life itself. His sole concern was the identity of the long-awaited Savior.
Jesus’ Response to John’s Question
After visiting him in prison, John’s disciples conveyed his question to Jesus. For his part, Jesus must have had great sympathy for John the Baptist, now locked in a prison cell constructed of human injustice and jealousy. But rather than simply asserting that he was indeed the Messiah, Jesus answered John respectfully by adapting the words of Isaiah we heard today. As John the Baptist knew, Isaiah prophesied that, with the coming of the Messiah, “the eyes of the blind [would] be opened, the ears of the deaf [would] be cleared; the lame [would] leap like a stag, and the tongue of the mute [would] sing” (Isaiah 35:6). So, in reply to John’s question, ‘Are you the one?’ – Jesus said: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, & the poor have the Good News proclaimed to them” (Mt. 11: 4-5). Jesus addressed John’s question and that of his disciples, not abstractly but concretely. He spoke to them of what they could ‘see and hear and touch with their hands’ (cf. Jn 1:1-3). Jesus was doing the work of God, the work of Wisdom, the work of the Messiah. For, the visible cures he performed signaled a deeper inward healing. Jesus had come not merely to make temporary improvements in people’s lives, but to deliver from the forces of evil, from the forces of sin and death.
When John the Baptist heard Jesus’ reply, he knew Jesus was the promised Messiah. The holy man from Galilee was not merely a wonderworker. No, Jesus healed in order to evangelize, to deliver, to transform. In turn, Jesus encourages John to place his faith and trust in him: “Blessed is the one who takes no offence at me” (Matthew 11:6), Jesus said. Even languishing in prison, even facing a grisly death, John would find untold joy and blessings by placing his faith and trust in Jesus.
Jesus Christ, the Answer to Our Isolation and Doubts
As Christmas draws near, we remember those who, like John, are incarcerated, including many around the world who are persecuted for their beliefs & convictions. Yet, even if we are free from physical restraints we sometimes find ourselves in prisons of doubt or guilt or isolation. It doesn’t take a prison cell to experience those feelings. In times of doubt or guilt or isolation, we, not unlike John, may begin to wonder whether God loves us, whether he forgives our sins, whether Jesus is our Messiah. More than a few people, facing those same questions, have abandoned their faith only to find themselves facing greater doubts, greater guilt, greater isolation.
For, if, God forbid, we were to abandon the Faith, we would abandon the One who came into the world to bring us the Good News for which, deep down, we are longing – the Good News that God’s truth and love are stronger than all our doubts, guilt, and isolation combined. Jesus has come to free us from those interior prisons that hinder us from the joy of loving God and neighbor and from giving ourselves in service to others.
This is how we are to understand Jesus’ own description of his Messiahship: Jesus has come restore the sight not merely of our eyes but our souls by flooding us with the light of faith. He has come to pick us up after we have fallen along the way so that we could walk again, but this time walk with purpose toward faith’s goal, our salvation. He has come to heal us not merely from physical illnesses, but to cleanse and heal us from sin in the very depth of our hearts, including those habitual, deep-seated sins and sinful attitudes that make us sad. Jesus has come to open not only our ears but also our minds and hearts to the Gospel, so that his Word might resonate in our hearts as we go about our daily lives. And Jesus has come to raise us from the dead – body, mind, and soul – not only in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time but any day when we repent of our sins and chose to live in his presence.
And blessed are we if, like John, we take no offence at Jesus – that is say, if we acknowledge that Jesus is exactly the Savior whom God had promised, Jesus says as much to us the next chapters of today’s Gospel where he engages the crowds by asking them what they were looking for. When they came out to see John the Baptist, what were they looking for? Were they looking for a people pleaser or a celebrity? John was none of these. What were they looking for? Jesus answers his own question – they were looking for a prophet and more than a prophet: someone who would not only speak God’s Word but indeed change their lives forever. Jesus is more than a prophet – he is the Christ, the Messiah.
On this “Gaudete Sunday” – this Sunday of rejoicing, so near to Christmas: Let us find our joy in Christ our Savior. Let us find our truth in the Lord Jesus who reveals us to ourselves. Let us find our healing in the One whose gaze penetrates into our depths. Let us find our freedom in the One who came from heaven to become a slave.
Then, when we encounter anyone who has taken offense at Jesus, or anyone who asks us to give an accounting of our hope, we can say joyfully, and with complete and personal assurance: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the One Who Is to Come. Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, Rejoice!