- Isaiah 35:1-10
- Canticle 15
- Luke 1:46-55
- James 5:7-10
- Matthew 11:2-11
Advent 3, Year A
Main Text (Hover for Text)
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
John, sitting in prison, no doubt anticipating his own execution, hears what Jesus is doing, and sends his disciples to ask. How sad. How sad that, having given his life to the task of preparing the way for the Messiah, having said to Jesus at his (Jesus’) baptism, “It is you who should be baptizing me,” having seen and done all this, John is finally plagued with uncertainty as he watches the Messiah fulfill his ministry. He just cannot be sure that this is what God intended the Messiah to be and do.
This is how deeply entangled in sin, in mimesis, we are.
Gil Bailie, in his book “Violence Unveiled: Humanity At the Crossroads” suggests that, for all our “enlightenment,” we can be sure that generations looking back on us will see us victimizing others in ways we will never be able to see. John calls us to humility as we proclaim this God of Peace, calls us to acknowledge that, were we to see the Savior acting as God would truly act, we too would be so stunned at the way it reveals our own embeddedness in violence that we would question if God really meant it to go just that way.
Jesus says of John that no one born of a woman is greater than he, but that the least of those in God’s kingdom is greater! John pointed to the dissolution of his own culture, just as we in the Colloquium On Violence and Religion do. He saw with terrible clarity the way that God would undo everything that stood in the way of God’s reign. But he did not see this as a thing of joy. He no doubt wept for love of the people when he wasn’t screaming at them, but he could not celebrate what he saw coming. For this reason, the least in the kingdom was indeed greater than he.
Apparently, being “in the kingdom” is manifest in two different ways, both of them indispensible. The one who is in the kingdom sees as John saw the coming destruction of the Principalities and Powers of this world, and also was able to celebrate this. It is this ability to celebrate that frees us to acknowledge that we will never see fully our own part in the ongoing victimage mechanism. If we do not have joy about God’s coming, if we can see only the pain, we will blanch at the idea that we too will pass through the trials our neighbors face. We will be tempted to stand as though we were without sin as we cast stones at those still entrapped by mimesis.
John asks us to look afresh at Jesus, at how he challenges US to face our own victimizing.
Michael and I are both thrilled with the work of Paul Neuchterlein on this passage in his website, “Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary.” Please give his excellent work a read.
Click here to open a new window with his page.
You and I still have to get up in the pulpit and preach. And, at least according to my preaching teacher, we have to preach “Good News.”
“If you don’t have Good News to share, don’t get in the pulpit!” That will stick with me for the rest of my ministry.
And then there’s the risk that taking our own part in the scapegoating process seriously will paralyze us. How can we preach to others if we are benefitting from the murder of the scapegoat too?
There’s the rub, and the measure of our ministry. Are we those “least in the kingdom” who are greater than those who long for the coming of God but lack the joy? As you meditate on these texts, remember that you and I read them from the point of view of the Resurrection. This entire text is written from the point of view of the Resurrection. Just as the Cross lies behind every word of the New Testament, so does the empty tomb, the ineradicable evidence of God’s victory over our sin, and everyone else’s, too.
Because we see Jesus through that lens, we may be just as startled as John was to see how much of our own lives Jesus calls into question, but we do so with the laughter of Sara at the incomprehensible nature of God. We do not ask, “Are you the one who is to come?” but “What other surprises do you have in store?”