Sunday, 16 December 2007

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A

John and Jesus couldn’t be further apart than the North is to the South Pole. Theirs is a life of great contrast because John prophesied the judgement of God whereas Jesus emphasised the salvation of God. John lived like an ascetic, apart from people. Jesus happily enjoyed the crowd, eating and drinking with sinners.

John had prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah and as he faced his end, doubts and questions about this Jesus whom he had believed to be the Messiah.

But, John wouldn’t be wrong to have lost faith in Jesus. Who wouldn’t be? Every expression of his life showed that he had lived for the image he had of the Messiah. But, it was as if Jesus had seemingly failed to live up to John’s image of how a Messiah should be.

In prison, John is supposed to face the truth on two fronts. The first is the truth about who his Messiah really is and secondly the truth about himself and what he believed in. Both these two truths are connected. How?

Humans live ideals. Even the most despised of all people have ideals. Drug addicts want to live in a world wherein they can remain on a high for all time without really having to pay the price of their addiction. The point is when reality does not match our ideal we are challenged to face the truth. In the case of John the Baptist, Jesus almost “repudiated” his definition of what a Messiah should be. That repudiation was bewildering because John had staked his entire life on whom he had believed in. When his ideal was shattered, John began to doubt himself.

Parents may be disappointed that their children have given up the practice of the faith in spite of all the efforts in bringing up the children in the tradition of the faith. Parents in such situation will certainly begin to question the very foundation of their belief. Not so much, “What have I done wrong?” but rather, “Have I believed in the wrong things all these years”?

People are scandalised and deeply hurt by the actions of some members of the Church especially priests in regard to the treatment of people. Whenever a scandal breaks out in Church, the people’s faith takes a knocking. People not only question the faith but they also question the very reason for believing.

In both these crises: children giving up their faith or scandal in the Church, the crises ultimately point back to the believer. The question that John asked: “Are you the one who is to come?” can be rephrased: “have I been wrong to have believed in you?”.
The key is: “Have I been wrong?” I remember when a good friend of mine left the Society of Jesus, I was quite affected. Upon hindsight, it was not so much the fact that the person had left that affected me. The leaving actually raised the question of “whether I should stay or not”. The same can be said of the effects of divorce. Those who are married and have witnessed their close friends getting divorced are sometimes plagued by the uncertainty that they too have staked their belief in the wrong thing, in this case, marriage. Should they continue to believe in the sanctity of marriage?

When things do not turn out the way we want them to, our disappointment is with God. However, is it the case that we are disappointed because God has not answered our prayers? Or are we more disappointed with ourselves? We are disappointed with ourselves for having trusted God. Why have I been so stupid to have trusted… Often it is not the failure or the betrayal of the person whom we have trusted that holds us prisoners. It is the fact that we have trusted that holds us prisoners. Our lack of faith in God may actually reveal deeper crisis which is the lack of faith in ourselves. Our trust has been wounded and we are just wary of trusting.

The first reading says: Courage! Do not be afraid. James says: Do not lose heart. Be patient and have hope like farmers waiting for the harvest to come. And Jesus tells John: Look again. Your faith has not been in vain because what I do herald the coming of the Kingdom prophesied by Isaiah.

All these words of comfort give us a sense that God is still in charge. We can still believe.

Today, Jesus asks us to have faith in him. We might have to wait a little longer. But he has never failed us. He says, “Have faith in me but have a little more faith in yourselves as you trust me”.