As we joyfully await the Third Sunday of Advent, we offer a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM for your prayer. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection Dec 1 2019 First Sunday Advent. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photos: St. Peter Indian Mission, Bapchule, Arizona, St. Thomas Catholic Community, Newton, Wisconsin
When John heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to him with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 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. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’
Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Last Sunday, the Gospel text came from an earlier portion of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 3:1-12) that focused on the ministry of John the Baptist. In that text, John addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him, “Who told you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Mt 3:7b) In the last verses of that Gospel, John described his own ministry in comparison to the one for whose coming he was preparing.
“I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
At the time of John, there was no clear consensus as to the kind of Messiah to expect. Some hoped that the “one to come” would be someone like a priest who would help fashion them into a holy people. Others hoped that some mysterious figure would make an appearance from the heavens to inaugurate the final realm of God. Last week’s text indicates that John was expecting a powerful ruler, a military ruler, in the line of David, who would forcibly establish God’s realm. However, in the opening verses of this text, where John is described as being in prison, he sends his disciples to question Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2)
Matthew does not say how much John really knows about the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus, only that he has heard of his works. Nor does Jesus respond directly to John’s questions. Rather, he asks him to look at what is happening around 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.” Jesus does not claim that he is doing these things, or even that God is doing them through him. He leaves those conclusions for John to make for himself.
Being in prison, John would be aware that he is facing the possibility of execution for challenging Herod’s moral behavior. In some sense, Matthew is asking his audience to place themselves in John’s situation and imagine the kind of questions and doubts that John would have about Jesus being the Messiah. “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another? Have I been misled or mistaken? I ask because you do not behave like I thought you would.” John may be wondering if Jesus is the person he had anticipated–the one he had spent his life’s energy preparing for, the one he had been asking the people to prepare to receive.
It is not difficult to believe that John was asking such questions, because Matthew’s community was asking these same questions. And as we are people in the midst of Advent, these questions are for us as well. During Advent, we are being asked to get in touch with our waiting for the “fullness of the coming of God.”
1. Imagine that you are John the Baptist, sitting in a dark cell of Herod’s. What are some of the questions/doubts that you might have about Jesus being the messiah?
2. What area some of the questions the early Christians would have faced from those who doubted that Jesus was the Messiah?
3. What are the questions/objections of those who do not believe in God’s presence in Jesus, in the Church, or in the world today?
4. Have there been events in your life that led you to rethink how God is present?
5. Jesus responds to John’s disciples by asking them to take notice of what is happening in the world around them. John and John’s disciples have to decide for themselves whether or not they have to “look for another.” How are you yourself answering that same question?
6. In the second half the gospel, Jesus praises John and his ministry, saying, “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Do you think Jesus was speaking only of John’s prophetic ministry or about the whole person of John?
7. Can you take some time now to talk frankly with God about your hopes and disappointments for a savior in your own life, or about how you are feeling about the coming of the reign of God, or about some other awareness that arose within you from the gospel?