3d Sunday of Advent
Dec. 11, 2016
Matt 11: 1-11
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“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’” (Matt 11: 4-5).
Thru the centuries, commentators have debated about John the Baptist’s motive in sending his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was the one who was to come, the one whose coming John had preached, e.g., in what we heard in last Sunday’s gospel (Matt 3:1-12). They’ve debated whether John sent them for his own sake—he himself was trying to answer that question about Jesus; or for the sake of his disciples—he knew the answer but they didn’t, so he wanted them to hear and see the answer first-hand.
John's disciples visit him in prison
The historic person of Jesus is long-gone, obviously. When people today wonder who Jesus was, or who Jesus is, they can’t be directed to Judea or Galilee to see for themselves what marvelous healings he’s working or hear for themselves the wisdom and truth of his teachings. Yet, as you know, many people today do question whether Jesus is the one sent by God, ask why they should pay any more attention to him than they pay to the Buddha or Mohammed or Karl Marx or Steve Jobs, ask whether Jesus should make any difference in their lives.
It’s been reported that someone once asked Gandhi whether he’d ever considered becoming a Christian, and he answered that he loved Christ; it was his followers that he had a problem with —followers who were practicing apartheid in South Africa when Gandhi lived there and began practicing law, and who were the colonial masters of India and suppressors of Indian efforts to gain self-government when Gandhi and others began their peaceful resistance to British rule.
What is the evidence that Jesus Christ is the one sent by God to fulfill the promises, to redeem humanity, the evidence that people can see and hear today if Jesus himself is no longer visible and audible?
The evidence is his followers. Assuredly people can see the followers of Jesus healing the sick in countless hospitals and health clinics all over the world, often at the risk of their own lives, e.g., during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a year or 2 back.
Assuredly people can see the followers of Jesus feeding the hungry and clothing the naked in refugee camps and migrant shelters in the Middle East and on our own southern border; resettling refugees fleeing from Cuba and Vietnam in the recent past or from Syria in the present; helping Haitians recover from earthquake and a hurricane.
Assuredly people can see Catholic schools and child-care centers in the poorest countries in the world like Haiti and Mongolia and the Central African Republic, in the most inaccessible parts of the world like the headwaters of the Amazon and the frozen hills of Tierra del Fuego, and in the inner cities of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
In all of those examples, by the way, the Church welcomes people of any creed. As has been said often, we don’t serve the poor, the sick, the homeless, the refugee because they’re Catholic but because we’re Catholic. We do what Christ did because that’s what he expects of us, commands us. (And that’s why we can say that Catholic hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, etc., are Catholic ministries covered by our freedom of religion, our freedom from government mandates that would violate our consciences.)
Assuredly people can see that missionaries risk their lives to preach the Good News to the poor in the Third World where the few, landed rich want to keep the many poor dispossessed, dependent, and ignorant of their God-given dignity—like Fr. Stanley Rother from Oklahoma City, who went as a missionary to Guatemala and was killed there for defending the rights of the poor, and whom Pope Francis just officially recognized as a martyr. Missionaries have risked and continue to risk their lives in places where war makes it dangerous to stay with the flock, e.g., during the recent civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and the current ones in South Sudan and Syria.
But most people don’t pay a lot of attention to all those wonderful things that “the Church,” that big institution, does for the poor, the sick, the homeless, the refugee, the oppressed. The followers of Jesus whom most people pay attention to are those why meet every day. They pay attention to you and me. What do people hear and see when they look at us, when they listen to us?
Last Tuesday the comic strip Pearls before Swine showed a couple of Mormon-looking door-to-door evangelists at Rat’s door. They inquired, “Have you heard the Good News?” He answered enthusiastically, “Yes! The Steelers covered the spread!”
When we hear “Good News,” is football what comes to mind? (Well, I guess not if you’re a Bears fan.) Or a department store sale? Or the start of hunting season? Or a favorable weather forecast? Or a college acceptance? Or some political development?
How many of us associate “Good News” with Jesus Christ? How many of us have so incorporated Jesus into our own lives that people see him reflected in our actions, hear him echoed in our words? Or are we like those politicians who proclaim their Catholic devotion on Sunday and then speak and vote for pagan practices like abortion, euthanasia, and sexual deviancy the rest of the week?
(Of course we’re all sinners and our behavior is often inconsistent with our belief, and our hearts often struggle between what the baptismal rite calls the “lure of evil” and the “empty promises” of Satan and what Jesus calls the straight and narrow path of God’s kingdom. What’s important is that we don’t start proclaiming that those empty promises fulfill us, that lies are truth, that evil is good; and that we admit our sins and turn to our Lord Jesus to be forgiven. The forgiveness of Jesus: another aspect of the poor—that would be us!—having the Good News proclaimed to them. Jesus forgives us. Jesus heals us.)
Brothers and sisters, most of us can’t restore the sight of the blind or make the lame walk, much less raise the dead. (Praise be to doctors and nurses who serve in the ministries of healing! But even they have limits.) But we can be healers in many ways—thru kindness, words of comfort, offers of forgiveness. We can welcome strangers, find ways to share our abundance with the needy, be honest and truthful. We can announce the Good News that Jesus is our redeemer by teaching the faith to our children and perhaps to others and by being ready to answer the questions of inquirers.
Is Jesus the one whom God sent to save us? When our neighbors see us and hear us, what do they see?