Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday word, 12 Dec 2010

Advent Sunday 3 A (12 December 2010)

Is 35. 1-6a, 10; Ps 146; Jm 5. 7-10; Mt 11. 2-11

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Old Question Asked Anew

Ever notice that in the gospels Jesus often spoke indirectly? His parables may come first to mind for they may be his most well-known examples of his roundabout way of speaking. Jesus used them to make a point, to teach and to describe God. In today’s gospel, Jesus did not say, “I made the blind see...the lame walk…the deaf hear”; or, “I cleansed lepers and raised the dead to life and preached the good news to the poor.” Instead Jesus pointed out that God did those things through him: 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. By refraining from naming who worked the marvels, Jesus gave God the credit for working them.

As we know, marvels in our lives can focus our attention on them rather than on the human or divine worker of the very marvels which change us or our lives. Jesus was fully aware he was God’s channel, the bridge for God’s kingdom beginning to dawn on earth. Without insisting he was the cause of the marvels, Jesus said: blessed is the one who shall not be scandalized by me, the one through whom God did marvelous deeds.

Besides being aware that God worked in and through him, Jesus’ roundabout way of speaking of the marvels others saw happen at his words and actions teach us that all his miracles were signs of the kingdom of heaven. Many say Jesus’ miracles proved God’s kingdom. Miracles prove nothing; they allow anyone to say, “I don’t understand how, but it happened.”

We readily settle for proofs rather than signs because proofs relieve us of further thought, verifying and searching. Proofs settle things. Signs do the opposite. Signs insist we think, urge attempts to choose this not that, and of course, invite us to search. Signs unsettle us, demanding we give ourselves to seeking. Christian seeking is our prophetic vocation.

John the Baptizer’s question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” reveals how exhausting prophetic imagination is. John who said, One is coming who is mightier than I, did not doubt himself. Rather, John was constantly reading the signs, sifting the words, weighing the deeds of those who seemed to fit the profile of messiah. Indeed, many messianic pretenders colored the history of Israel.

Not only his question, the Baptizer’s question is ours. Do we focus on Jesus, or do we allow life’s ups and downs to take our attention from Jesus, to disturb our hearts, to set us pursuing dead ends or seeking false messiahs? If our focus is scattered, St. James offered us attitudes, which can refresh our prophetic imaginations.

James counseled patience to Christians who endured affliction. Be patient like the one who, having sown crops, waited for early then late rains to do their work of nourishing seeds into mature plants. We are to be patient until the coming of the Lord. We are to let the Lord do the Lord’s work of leading others to maturity and of judging people by their deeds. We cultivate the work of the Lord, who leads us to maturity, as the farmer stood patiently while rains did their work to lead crops to mature.

Patience helps us receive examples, the second attitude James encouraged. Welcoming examples of faithful people strengthens our endurance as disciples of Jesus today. Inspiring models motivate us to live and act in new ways.

The third attitude James advised may be the most difficult: we are not to take out on each other the effects of life’s burdens. Yet, how quickly we do! Complaining readily leads to backbiting and to judging instead of building up the community of disciples, the church. Patiently letting our Lord work, cultivating grace and welcoming examples of others who have done both well, help us focus on Jesus with our lives even as we await his coming.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause in the presence of the Trinity. Ask John the Baptizer to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus for becoming human for you so you could one day become like God. Ask Jesus for the grace of patient endurance as you daily seek the signs of his presence and power of his Spirit. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words, thy kingdom come, on our lips are at once both a plea for Jesus to return in glory and a reminder that Jesus has given us his Spirit to help us recognize the many ways the kingdom blossoms anew each day.


Wiki-image of Iwanow's Head of John the Baptizer (detail) is in the public domain.

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