Is. 35:1-6,10; James 5:7-10; Matt 11:2-11
“BE PATIENT, BROTHERS AND SISTERS!”
Today, Third Sunday of Advent, is called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete means to rejoice, to be joyful. With the coming of Christ, the Messiah, the Sunday tells us to be “joyful in hope.” When we talk of joy, it does not mean we should be laughing or joking all the time. It means that even if we encounter problems, failures and adversities, we do not allow them to defeat us. We do not despair but rather find ways to solve them. On this day, we are called to be patient as we wait for the coming of the promised Messiah.
- ARE YOU THE ONE WHO IS TO COME?
The New Testament makes us understand that John the Baptist and Jesus were related, since their mothers were cousins (Lk 1:36). The New Testaments further makes us know that John was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. John was sent to be the herald or the precursor of the Messiah. It was the same John who introduced Jesus to his audience as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). By this token, John should have known who Jesus was. This, therefore, makes one to wonder why John sent his disciples to go and ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?”
In those days, the Jewish people were an oppressed people. They had been colonized by a succession of foreign powers. At the time of Jesus and John the Baptist, their colonial masters were the Romans. They ruled the Jewish people with an iron fist. The did not tolerate any divergence of opinion or opposition. The Jewish people went through a reign of terror. They, therefore, longed for someone who would free them from the yoke of the Roman oppression. They recalled that several prophets had foretold the advent of a Messiah, that is, “an Anointed One” from God, who would be the Saviour of Israel. In the logic of the Jews, they conclude that it is this Messiah who would set them free from the Romans. They expected him to be a warrior, a general who would lead the army of Israel in battle against the Romans, and chase them out of Palestine. This is what anyone who learnt that Jesus was the “Anointed One” expected him to play this role. Maybe, it might not have crossed John’s mind that the Messiah could be humble, merciful and suffering man.
- A DIFFERENT KIND OF MESSIAH
Somehow, Jesus was not that kind of Messiah. He was anything but a warrior. He even preached peace, forgiveness of one’s enemies, urged people to turn away the other cheek if someone struck them on one cheek. As a result, many of the Jews refused to recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. John the Baptist too became a little confused. Was Jesus really the Messiah? That was what he sent his disciple to find out from Jesus.
There is a saying that goes: “actions speak louder than words.” Jesus did not say “Yes, I am the Messiah” or “No, I am not.” Instead, he told John’s messengers to go back and tell John what they had heard and seen. What they had heard and seen were the very things that prophets had said the Messiah would do: He would make the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise to life, and the good news proclaimed to the poor (Mtt 11:4-5). When John would get that feedback, he would know that Jesus was indeed the Messiah – not the kind that he and entire Jewish Nation had been expecting. As Messiah, Jesus was setting his people free from a lot of disabilities that held them captive. He was not a political Messiah, but a spiritual one.
The response of Jesus invites John and his followers to go beyond their expectations of a triumphant Messiah with all His might and honour. Here, we can understand that the task of the Messiah is, first and foremost, not to render judgment but to bring the message of hope and love, to bring the good news to the poor and the suffering.
- “BE PATIENT, BROTHERS AND SISTERS.”
In today’s Second Reading, St. James tells us, “Be patient, brothers and sisters,” until the coming of the Lord. In those days, it was the common belief of the people that Jesus would return anytime, “anytime” meaning during the life of the generation that lived in the days of the Lord (1 Thess. 2:19; 4:15; 2 Thess 2:1, etc.; Mt. 24:3; 2 Pet. 1:16, 3:4, 12; 1 Jn. 2:28). Awaiting the glorious return of the Lord Jesus, some of the faithful had sold everything they owned and gave the money away. Others had quit their jobs and sat around, just “waiting impatiently”. St. James urges his listeners to exercise patience. While we must be prepared for the coming of the Lord, at the same time, we must not allow ourselves to be deceived by false prophets. For “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt. 24:36). In the meantime, we must bear our crosses by persevering in our suffering, suffering through the ordinary trials of life. These sufferings have their merit.
James points to nature to illustrate his point that patience is necessary. The farmer suffers in sowing the seed. The same farmer will rejoice in harvesting the crop. Between these two moments, however, there is a long period of waiting. In ancient times, the period between sowing and harvesting is also a time of famine, since food was in short supply. Yet the farmer happily suffers this famine in the hope that harvest time will soon be here and food will be plentiful again. No matter what we suffer, like the farmer who patiently waits for the earth to produce the precious crops, we too must be extremely patient.
- THE MEANING OF PATIENCE
To be patient is to understand that my present suffering is meaningful and necessary. It is as meaningful and necessary as the suffering of the farmer waiting for the harvest. The justification for the suffering is in the good-times that will come in the future. The glory of the Lord does not come to us on credit, have it now and pay later. It comes to us prepaid. We pay for it beforehand. Now is the time to pay for it, and our present suffering is the currency. People who do not understand this go about asking themselves, “Why Me? What have I done to deserve this?” Worse still they blame someone else for their suffering. James warns his fellow Christians to avoid the blame-game, to avoid trading complaints against one another as if their present suffering was something unnecessary. Believers who indulge in the blame-game betray their lack of faith in divine providence, and so make themselves liable to judgment. “Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!” (James 5:9)
James reminds such grumpy Christians that the Lord is very near, “the Judge is standing at the doors.” It is the Lord who will judge everyone, the sincere believer as well as the insincere, and give to everyone what they truly deserve. He reminds those Christians who grumble against one another as being the cause of their suffering to focus on the glory of the Lord which is coming and not on their worldly comfort and social status which is disappearing. Advent is a time to remind ourselves that the Judge is very near, at the very doors. He it is who will judge and give to everyone what they deserve. As servants of the Lord we have a natural tendency to separate the weeds from the wheat. But we must endeavour to heed the explicit injunction of the Master: “Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30).
- “DELAYED GRATIFICATION”
Another word for PATIENCE is “DELAYED GRATIFICATION.” In his book, “Resisting Happiness”, Matthew Kelly has this to say: “In order to have a healthy financial life that balances earning with spending, and saving with giving, one must be able to delay gratification. In order to raise children to become the-best-version-of-themselves, one must be willing to delay gratification. Great marriages are built on individual and mutual delayed gratification. Great careers are built little by little over time, and require doing the hard yards early and delaying gratification.”
Matthew Kelly tells about the famous “Stanford marshmallow experiment”. It involved researchers offering a child a choice between receiving a treat immediately or waiting fifteen minutes and receive two treats. with a marshmallow (sweet cake-like cookies) on the desk the researcher leaves the room. The child who waits gets an extra marshmallow. Years later the researchers followed up and discovered that children who were able to delay gratification tended to have better life outcomes as measured by SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) scores, in their educational attainment, general health and well-being. Generally, patience pays off.
- A GOD IN OUR OWN “IMAGE AND LIKENESS”?
When people experience trials and doubts, they easily get disgusted because God does not seem to use His great power. For them, God does not seem to take command and “do the magic” as they would want him do. God seems to be far too slow to react to the requests of his followers and believers. The Jewish people, in Jesus’ days, would have preferred to have a Messiah who is designed in their own “image and likeness”, a Messiah who would dance to their tune. But, unfortunately, the Saviour that Jesus is, is so completely different. Here us a little illustration:
Long time ago, a Rabbi is said to have knocked at heaven’s door and confronted the Messiah: “Why are you taking so long? Don’t you know humankind is waiting for you” “It is not me they are expecting,” answered the Messiah. “Some are waiting for wealth and riches; others for power to lord over others; or for a kingdom of their own fantasies. No, they are waiting for the realization of their own foolish dreams, not the dream of the Messiah for them.” In life, we must learn to wait.
Nowadays, many Christians are still making the same mistake of the Jews of old. Their minds are well-made-up as to what kind of Messiah that they want. They imagine him to be the type that will deliver material wellbeing, success, prosperity. And his delivery is expected to come instantaneously. If they do not get those things in their present church, they are disillusioned; they begin to drift from church to church in search of one that will meet their expectations. This type of Christians need to be told that Jesus is not there to meet our expectations. Rather, we are the ones who must meet the expectations of Jesus. Those expectations are primarily spiritual, not material, not worldly. Jesus said: “… seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things will be added onto you” (Mtt 6:33). IF YOU WANT TO SUCCEED, IF YOU WANT HAPPINESS, PRAY FOR PATIENCE.
May the Lord strengthen our hearts in holiness that we may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of Jesus with all His saints (1Thess 3:13)!