The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus Christ was long term. It went back to, even before, they were both born. The beginning of their lives. It was John who recognized Jesus in the midst of a crowd when Jesus first came to the Jordan River to be baptized (John 1:29-31). So why does John question who Jesus is at this point of time?
On a very human level, is this the quintessential “Really?” Is this who you really are?” Jonh wants to follow the Messiah. The situation in terms of following Lord is NOT what John expected. John is in prison and his prospects for the future don’t exactly look rosy at this point. Can you just hear John saying (much like us sometimes…) : “Everybody else’s prayers are getting answered. When do I get an answer to MY list?
Perhaps what is needed involves a change of perspective.
First – it involves a change in our perspective of sight.
What does your Jesus look like? How do you recognize Him? This is exactly our Advent challenge. Advent calls us to break out of the routine and look deeper. Advent calls us to perhaps discover a Jesus we didn’t expect, one we didn’t SEE at first. To SEE in the goodness around us – the works of Jesus. To SEE the presence of “the Christ” in events and people we didn’t expect. And Advent calls us to not only look deeper, but – and here’s the risky part – to then trust what we think we see, even when the vision doesn’t quite seem clear at the present moment.
Second, it involves a change in our perspective of time.
Look at today’s Second Reading from James 5:7-10: “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth.” Here are some questions:
What is the farmer doing? He is waiting patiently. Why? Because you can’t rush nature. What part does nature play in your perspective of this Advent-and-not-yet-Christmas-season? How does this waiting relate to Advent? What are you doing during this time? What is God doing in you during this time? Is patience involved in both situations?
Third, it involves a change in our perspective of trust.
Look at today’s Gospel from Matthew 11:2-11. Just like the Pharisees, John the Baptist might also have expected a mighty one. Certainly a religious figure but perhaps also someone who would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. John might have been confused at the gentle, healing Jesus. Pope Francis invites us into the mind and into the cell of John the Baptist:
To look into the soul of John the Baptist – weighed down not only by chains, but by “the shackles of doubt.” [John the Baptist] suffered in prison—let us hear his words—the interior torture of doubt, saying: “But maybe I made a mistake? This Messiah is not how I imagined the Messiah would be.” “Was I mistaken in proclaiming someone who isn’t who I thought?”
And so he invited his disciples to ask Jesus: “But tell us, tell us the truth: are you he who is to come?” because that doubt made him suffer. The suffering, the interior solitude of this man. “I, on the other hand, must diminish, but diminish thus: in my soul, in my body, in everything.”
(Pope Francis: God Triumphs through Humility, Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. May 2, 2016)
Advent calls us to consider that God often comes into your life in a way you expect.
A dad recently shared how he used to make intercessions about himself, his job, his marriage, his children. He not only asked God to come down and help him in these areas of his life (all which are noble) but he also began to write down his intercessions to see when – or if – God would answer them. He wanted to determine God’s “score card” as it were.
Over the years, the dad noticed that prayer began to move into a second phase as his perspective changed. Not “God come down and solve my problems” but rather he begin interceding on the behalf of others – his colleagues, his wife, his children.
He is now in a third phase of his prayer life. He has heard God say in effect, “I already have solved those problems. I sent you.” Now his prayer is “How can I better serve my wife? How can I better support my children? How can I be a conduit for God’s grace at my place of work?”
One of the interesting parts of the conversation was that when we put the question to the dad, so how was God’s batting average? he said “God’s batting average was pretty high. It might not have always been 100% and He didn’t answer my prayers in a way I exactly prayed for, but the issue was almost always addressed – and for the better. I just had to believe that the Lord had my best interests at heart, believe HIS perspective and trust the process.”
It’s almost a living example of Jeremiah 29:11, 13:
I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you look for me, you will find me: when you seek me with all your heart.
Audio version of the homily is here: