Depending on which Mass one attends today, you will hear either the readings for Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent or the Memorial of Saint John of the Cross. I’m focusing on the former in this reflection, since the Advent readings continue the theme of waiting for the arrival of Jesus, although with a bit of a twist today. It’s a twist St. John of the Cross would have appreciated.
So far, anyone following the daily cycle of Advent Mass readings will have encountered John the Baptist a number of times. John keeps repeating that the Lord is coming. But in the gospel for today, John the Baptist is surprised to hear just how Jesus is making himself known. John keeps hearing things that do not correspond to his expectations. Is Jesus really the Messiah? Where are all the fireworks? So John, who is in prison (Lk 3:19-20; Mt 11:2), asks his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you really ‘the one who is to come?'”
Jesus challenges the expectations of people, then and now. John the Baptist, sitting in prison, wondered if championing Jesus was in vain. John thought Israel would be restored to its glory by a prophet in the line of Elijah, who destroyed Yahweh’s enemies by fire. Jesus, however, made it clear by his teaching, preaching and healing that his fire was a purifying one. He would restore security and peace in the hearts of all men and women by offering forgiveness for sins and new life in him. His good works on Earth did not mean freedom from all suffering here and now but freedom for salvation in heaven.
Saint John of the Cross got the message loud and clear. As he labored on Earth to hasten the advent of the kingdom of God in its fullness, he was thrown into prison. His crime? Trying to restore good order to the Carmelites so as to be better prepared for heaven. John’s sufferings, however, did not keep him from continuing his effort, for all that we do in and with Christ shares in Christ’s victory.
Jesus challenges us to look beyond our expectations and to set our minds on him: to watch him, listen to him and act accordingly. In this way we imitate Jesus’ way with the Father. Jesus always considered the Father’s will before anything else, including his own feelings and preferences, and trusted in the Father’s plan of salvation.
Basically, it’s what Jesus tells John the Baptist: blessed is the one who takes no offense at me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
David Werning is the director of social policy engagement at Catholic Charities USA.
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