Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2022. The content is 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 December 11 2022. 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: ‘stained glass windows are from a ‘friendly, genuine and always willing to serve the needs of others’ congregation that makes you feel like an integral part of a tight knit parish St. Augustine Parish, West Allis, 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 was 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 last week’s Gospel, John described his own ministry this way:
“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 a mysterious figure would come 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. In the opening verses of this week’s gospel John sends his disciples to question Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
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. Jesus does not 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 been mistaken? 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 are questions 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.”
- What are some of the things for which you have waited a long time?
- Are you aware that others may be looking for signs of God’s presence in the world that are very different than your own expectations?
- Have you ever grown tired of waiting?
- What are the stories of hope in waiting that you have experienced?
- Have there been events in your life that led you to rethink how God is present in your life, in the church, and in the world?
- As John sat day after day in prison, what questions do you think he was asking himself? What do you think his prayer to Yahweh was like?
- 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.” What is this gospel saying to you? Can you talk with God honestly about that now?