More Than a Prophet
December 11, 2016 (readings)
Third Sunday of Advent
Father Barry O’Toole, LC
Matthew 11: 2-11
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “ What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who were fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater that John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Introductory Prayer: Lord, I believe that you are present here with me as I enter into this moment of conversation with you. I trust in your loving providence that guides my every step throughout the day. Because I love you, I desire to look only to you so that you can become the strength of my weakness and the certitude of my entire life.
Petition: Lord, let me never doubt your loving strength to transform my human weakness.
1. From the Depths of Doubt: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Many have seen in these words of the Baptist a sign of weakness or of doubt in Christ. And it may well be so. Here is a man who had spent the greater part of his life living not in a five-star, but a five million-star hotel: the wilderness. Suddenly he is cooped up in a small, dark and stinking dungeon. He is about to bow out from the stage of life, a martyr for the truth of the gospel. Before making the final act of self-immolation, he might be questioning if it is all worth the ultimate sacrifice. A dying man cannot afford to have any doubts. Do I harbor in my heart doubts about my faith? Do I seek, as John the Baptist did, to resolve those questions by asking someone to help me?
2. From the Heights of Certitude: Others contend that John is asking this question not on his own behalf, but on that of his disciples. Certainly, the message of doom that John had preached — “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees…. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:10-12) — does not seem to be coming to fulfillment. On the contrary, Jesus appears as the gentle shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep and tenderly brings it back to the fold. John’s disciples might have been getting a little impatient. John reassures them by saying, “If you have any doubts, go and see what Jesus is doing, and your doubts will be dispelled.” If anyone begins to argue with us about Jesus and to question his supremacy, the best of all answers is not to enter into a debate but to say, "Give your life to him, and see what he can do with it." The supreme argument for Christ is the experience of his changing power. “Try it. You’ll like it.”
3. Look Only to Christ: Nested deep within our hearts, we all have doubts and fears that float up in moments of difficulty and trial. We also have courage and certitudes: hidden resources from which to draw in times of necessity. Whatever might have motivated these words of John the Baptist, be it doubt or positive testimony, the lesson is exactly the same: Turn to Christ in every circumstance of life. Christ is our reassurance and strength when fear invades our hearts and clouds our minds. Christ is our Savior and the very reason that sustains our efforts as apostles and heralds of his Kingdom. Thus, we echo the motto of the Baptist in all that we do: “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Conversation with Christ: Lord, during this period of Advent, I want to draw closer to you. I want you to invade every corner and crevice of my weary heart. Teach me to leave aside all my fears for the future and to be as generous as you have been with me – giving everything you had, indeed your very life, for my salvation.
Resolution: Today I will read, either alone or with someone else, the passage of the Gospel referring to the Birth of Christ (Luke 2:1-20).