In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist asked the disciples about Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” Although John the Baptist was sure of the holiness of Jesus and that He is truly a man of God, he may have found it difficult to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. This was because the Jews were expecting a Messiah who would come as a great conqueror and political leader who would had the power to defeat and destroy all their enemies and free them for their sufferings, wipe away all their pains and bring about peace in their country once and for all. That was the type of “Liberating Messiah” that they were looking for.
We may say that the Jews were blind in not recognising Jesus as the Messiah. However, let us ask ourselves, “Do we also not have similar views and expectations of the Messiah like the Jews especially when we are going through a lot of pain in life?” A few days ago, a parishioner (let us call her Mary, not her real name) shared how she of her married life with a mother-in-law who literally hated her. She said, “When I got married I was very excited in wanting to live a happy life with my husband and in-laws. I immediately set up an altar in the sitting room. When I did that, my mother-in-law set up her Taoist altar on the opposite side of my altar in her room.
To make a long story short of what Mary shared, she said that every day, even though I tried so hard to do as much as I could to love my mother-in-law, nothing was good enough; she would always reject me and get angry with me. Every day, I would just cry and cry. Very often when I could no longer bear the pain and rejection, I would like a candle on the altar and tell Jesus, “Lord, I am trying so hard to love as You want me to love, but it’s so painful and I do not know what else I can do.”
“One day”, Mary said, “While I lived on the 5th floor, I found myself on the 12th floor of my block. I was dazed and didn’t know what was happening . . . I was on the verge of jumping to my death. Then, a friend of mine was shocked to see me dazed on the 12th floor, and immediately came up to me. Although she knew what I had wanted to do, she did not say a word to me and simply brought me back to my flat. Reflecting on this incident, I knew it was God who sent her to save me. If she had scolded me or said other things to me, I would have argued with her, and eventually found a way to jump off the floor.
I suffered for almost 25 years of my married life. . . but, I did not give up trying to love my mother-in-law. In the later years, I began to understand more clearly why she hated me. I found out that when she herself got married, she was abused and badly ill treated by her parents and in-laws; she was even thrown out of her own house. So, when I got married, she simply had to vent all her many years of anger and suffering on me. In the last moments of her life before she died, she cried and cried, and asked me, “Why do you love me when I do not love you?” Mary simply said, “Because Jesus wants me to love you.” She cried even more and asked for Baptism when she said, “I too also want the Jesus you love.” Soon after the Baptism she died.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when people hurt us, we would have a tendency and temptation to want to get even. We tell ourselves, “We have to seek for justice.” Some people become so hurt that they seek vengeance through violence. In the end, they cause more disunity and division in the home and amongst relatives and friends, and in the end destroy the people who hurt them and themselves. Justice without compassion is not the truth that Jesus preaches and lives. When the Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees and the Romans persecuted Jesus, He forgave them. Even as He was hanging on His Cross and at the point of death, He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
When Mary lighted her candle on her altar each time she found it her pain and suffering from her mother-in-law unbearable, she was re-enacting the scene of the compassion of Jesus who prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The compassionate love that Jesus shows us and wants us to live is an unconditional love that is radical; it is never easy to live out, but as Mary has shown us, with God’s help, nothing is impossible.
Very often, we only see our own hurts and pains and are not able to sense the pain of others, especially those who have hurt us. If this is so, then it would be very difficult for God’s graces to work in our hearts. For Mary, she not only found strength to persevere in loving her mother-in-law, but she was also able to feel the pains of her mother-in-law and empathise with her. The Christ-like empathy of Mary is the compassionate love that we believers and followers of Jesus are expected to show when we are being hurt by others and not the avenging and punishing God of the Old Testament that John the Baptist preached.
As I conclude, let me add that as we celebrate the “joy” of the 3rd Sunday of Advent it is a divine joy of God who assures us that there is real hope and real joy for nothing is impossible with Him in our lives.
So, let us have courage and persevere in our faith. I would like to end with a poem that in many ways captures how we are to cooperate with God’s compassionate love as shown to us by Jesus, and lived out courageously by Mary who eventually won back her mother-in-law for Christ.
I feel your pain
and long to touch the hurt
and make it melt away.
Yes, I know that I can’t really see
the breadth and depth
of this dark valley you’re in.
I can’t truly know
just how sharp the knife is in your soul –
for it is you who is in its path; not me.
But, I have known other valleys,
and in my heart
still bear knife-wound scars.
Even so, I would walk your road
and take your pain if I could.
I cannot. And yet, perhaps
in some way I can be a hand to hold
in the darkness:
in some way, try to blunt
the sharpness of pain.
But, if not – it may help a little
just to know that I care.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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