One very good way to know whether we are living our faith in God’s Will and Ways or not is to ask ourselves, “Am I at peace with myself? Am I at peace with others? Do I bring peace to the lives of people and to the world around me – at the church car park, in traffic jams, at home with my aged mother, sick grandmother, wayward child, my foreign maid . . . Do I have joy in my heart? The answers to these questions do give us good indications of not only our interior state of our emotions, but also the quality of our relationship with God.
If a person were to come up to us after Mass, smelling of alcohol or if someone who has been gossiping about us and spreading a lot of unkind and distorted things about us or if our child has been stealing money from us to buy his computer games or have started drinking . . . what would our reactions to these people be? Whether we would give the alcohol drinking beggar money or tell the gossiper off or punish our problematic child or not, depends a lot on how much peace we have in our hearts. In other words, a lot of how we react to people and situations of our lives depend on how deeply rooted are we in our relationship with God.
Yes, we may say that it is only human tendency for us to be suspicious about people who want to take advantage of our generosity and get angry with people for hurting us and worry about our loved ones who are destroying themselves. As a Christian, we do not deny that such human situations are real. However, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is presenting John the Baptist and us with a new perspective of life that turns our perception of people upside down and inside out.
John the Baptist, like the many other Jews, was waiting for a Messiah who would set them free from their oppressors who were causing them much suffering. Thus, John the Baptist and the Jews were expecting a Messiah would take revenge on their behalf . . . and punish all their oppressors. So, when Jesus appeared in the scene, John the Baptist who knew that Jesus was a great prophet whom, he was unfit to even to serve as a slave, and undo the straps of his sandals, was puzzled as to whether Jesus was “the Messiah who was to come . . . or do they have to wait for someone else?”
Jesus’ reply to John the Baptist was, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.” In Jesus’ reply, He was urging John to reflect on the truth that a Messiah is about Salvation not about vengeance; a Messiah is not about punishment of our enemies, but about Mercy that is shown to all those who have hurt and harmed us and compassion towards those who have gone astray; a Messiah too is one who has preferential love for the poor and needy.
There is a story of Martin, a cobbler – a shoemaker. Martin’s wife had just died and he is left to take care of his young son. He is feeling somewhat depressed about life; his business was getting worse and he does not know how he could bring up his child on his own . . . to drown his sorrows, he started drinking. Martin also poured his sorrows to a good friend who advised him to read a few verses of the Gospel each day. Martin took the advice seriously and several times each day he would read the Gospel. One evening, as Martin was pondering on the Gospels, he felt deeply within him a voice saying, “Martin, I will come and visit you tomorrow.” As the voice brought him deep peace and joy, he knew for sure that it was Jesus speaking to him.
So, the next day, Martin was looking forward to meeting this Jesus who was supposed to come to turn up to meet him. As business was poor and as he needed the money to bring up his son, even though Martin was excited about meeting Jesus, he was also getting worried about his financial situation. As he was looking out his window for customers, he noticed Stephen, a retired soldier outside in the cold. His immediate reaction was one of irritation as Stephen was blocking his view and view of his potential customers who may want to look inside to see his display of the shoes he had.
It then occurred to Martin, that Stephen who is out in the cold may also be hungry. So, he got up and invited Stephen into his shop. He forgot about his need for customers and immediately prepared some sandwiches and gave Stephen a hot cup of coffee. Stephen was deeply appreciative as he was freezing outside and was praying to God for help, when Martin invited him in. As Martin was reading the Gospel that night before going to bed, he again felt the same deep peace and joy in his heart . . . This time, he felt Jesus embracing him with His deep love and compassion. Martin knew for sure that the Jesus who had promised to visit him did so in the person of Stephen.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, Jesus was not only challenging John the Baptist’s perception of how the Messiah should be, but is also challenging your perceptions and my perceptions of our Messiah. When Jesus presented to John the Baptist that with Him, “the blind will see again” Jesus is challenging us to go beyond our “blind” perceptions that God as our Messiah is not simply a “Miracle Worker” to serve our narrow and personal needs.
When Jesus added that with Him as the Messiah, the “lame would walk” He is assuring us that as we limp through life because of our weaknesses and sinfulness, He will lead us and give us the strength to persevere in life, when we face the challenges of our faith.
When Jesus proclaimed that with Him, “the lepers are cleansed” He is reminding us that in His Father’s Kingdom, nobody is excluded. As His followers, we are to be inclusive; every person is loved dearly by Him as a brother and sister.
When Jesus also contended that with Him, “the deaf hear” He is challenging us to be open to be open to the Truth of Gospel that, like Martin in our story, who represents us, God will give us a heart that is able to sense His Compassionate and Loving Presence in our daily living.
When Jesus proclaimed that with Him “the dead are raised to live,” He is assuring us that if we believe in Him and live His Father’s Will, then when our earthly life comes to an end, Jesus is promising us that we will receive the gift of sharing eternal life with Him in heaven.
When Jesus concluded by saying that with Him, as the Messiah, the “Good News is proclaimed to the poor,” He is reminding us that God has a special preferential love for the poor and needy of this world.
Before I conclude our reflection on today’s Gospel, let us also remind ourselves that as we today also celebrate the “Joy” of the third week of Advent, Prophet Isaiah in our First Reading proclaims that the wilderness and dry-lands will exult, the wasteland will rejoice and bloom . . . the Messiah that is to come will also, “strengthen all weary hands, steady trembling knees and say to the faint hearts, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. . . Look your God is coming . . .”
My sisters and brother in Christ, our Messiah who is to come has great plans of Salvation for us . . . He wants us to put on His eyes to see the Truth, journey daily with His strength within us, be His compassionate-love to all peoples, and turn our perceptions and expectations of life and people upside down and inside out, and like Martin who represents us through the story, go beyond our needs in life, and learn to see Christ’s presence in the people we relate to daily . . .
If we live in this manner, like John the Baptist and Martin, we too will experience the deep peace and joy of Jesus in our hearts regardless of the pains and trials of life. God’s transforming and Compassionate-Love is already present in our hearts . . . But, do we love Jesus deeply enough to want to be more like Him?
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 22nd December 2013