THE JOY OF REPENTANCE AND HUMILITY
Zep 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
In the gospel of last Sunday’s, we heard John the Baptist proclaiming he message of repentance as a way of preparing for the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. The teaching of St. John the Baptist profoundly touched the hearts of his listeners. This explains why in today’s gospel his listeners ask him what they ought to do while waiting for the coming of the Lord. The answer of John the Baptist is to challenge people’s generosity and sense of fairness so that others may have reason to rejoice. Give bread to the hungry and clothes to those who have none. When the tax collectors ask what to do, John tells them to keep to the official rate without over-taxing people in order to extort from them. To the soldiers, St. John tells them not to use their position as a weapon for their own advantage. He tells them to be content with their salaries and stop stealing from the poor and the weak. In other words, the time of Advent is a time of positive action.
- JOHN’S AUDIENCE
Looking at the people who made up John’s audience, we find that many came to him out of mere curiosity (lawyers, soldiers, etc.). They came just to see and hear what this “mad man” was doing and saying. Initially, they were onlookers and distant watchers of what John had to offer. In Matthew’s gospel, we are told that among his audience were Scribes and Pharisees who considered themselves in good standing with God, and even imagined that God was probably pretty lucky to have them on his side. (Mtt 3:7-10). Remarkably, none of these people left the same as they came. John pierced through their defenses. The message of John touched all his listeners to the extent that they asked to know that they should be doing while waiting for the coming of the Messiah. John gives them the practical implication of repentance, which is being socially involved in making the world a better place, and bringing joy to the world.
- THE MESSAGE OF JOHN TO THE PEOPLE
St. John the Baptist is telling us today that membership in the church, attending Mass occasionally, receiving Holy Communion and reading the Bible intermittently are good but not enough to make us faithful Christians. Our faith must be visible in our social contacts and in our concern for others. The repentance that we are called to take up during Advent (and after) has to be expressed in actions. John the Baptist did not call people to a bible study, a miracle crusade, or to a prayer meeting. Certainly, these things are also important in the life of a practicing Christian. But the true believer can and should do more. John’s core message can be summarized in three points:
- a) First, he tells is listeners to care and share. Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. We should provide help to a person in need, either material, moral or spiritual help. Indeed, no one can say that he/she has nothing to share. John does not ask his listeners (including us) to give everything that they have. He only asks them to share with the needy. For instance, to adopt an abandoned baby, visit a sick neighbour, to offer a meal to a hungry person, to practice active love and compassion. John the Baptist is preaching a social awareness among the people of God. He is not asking for heroic sacrifices, like the martyrs did when they offered their lives for the sake of Christ. He is not asking for any extra or special projects to be planned and executed. He is simply asking for a helping hand, a foot that can go out of its way, an eye to see others’ needs and an ear that hears a cry for help.
- b) Secondly, John the Baptist calls on his listener to do honest work wherever they are employed. When the tax collectors asked him also what they were required to do, John told them to stop collecting more than what is prescribed. He does not tell to quit their job or profession because it is full of immoral and corrupt people. They are to continue in their profession, but they should do it honestly. If only teachers, lawyer, doctors, carpenters, electricians, technicians of all sorts, could do their job honestly, society would be a lot better than we know it today.
- c) Next, John tells the people to be always truthful. To the soldiers he tells them not to accuse anybody falsely. Let them not take sides with the lying and guilty party in a dispute. Let them not stand as false witnesses in order to incriminate the wrong person. They should not plant drugs and guns to frame up somebody. They should simply offer security and protect the innocent civilian.
- REPENTANCE BRINGS JOY AND LIBERATION
True repentance brings JOY AND LIBERATION to the person who practices it. This is the joy that comes from one’s acceptance of one’s dependence on God. For the prophet Isaiah tell us: “If only you had listened to my commandments! Your prosperity would have been like a river and your saving justice like the waves of the sea” (Is 48:18). Such joy emanates from our feeling of unworthiness before perfect God. It is a joy that one experiences when one gives God all the glory and lets “God to be God”. Joy is the reward of every heart that recognizes that all that every human being HAS and IS are God’s gifts first, before becoming personal merits.
Today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the Church celebrates GAUDATE SUNDAY. “Gaudate” is the Latin word for REJOICE, and it is the message of the 1st and 2nd readings, and also the prayers for the Mass of today.
- In the opening prayer, the celebrant prayed: “O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the JOYS of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and GLAD REJOICING.”
- The prophet Zephaniah exhort us in the 1st reading: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zeph 3:14).
- Paul, in the 2nd reading, calls on the Philippians: Brothers and sisters: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).
The reason for this joy on “Gaudate Sunday” is because “the Lord is near”; he is at hand! (Phil 4:5). “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, a mighty saviour” Zeph 4:15). His mission is to bring joy and gladness to his people who have suffered one calamity after the other. “He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals” (Zeph 4:17-18). Today, we are invited to rejoice as we continue our preparation for the birthday of Jesus, and his Second Coming.
While it is lovely to hear someone tell us to “rejoice”, the reality is that in the world and in our lives there are times when it is difficult to find joy. On the news, we hear of wars and senseless massacres as are happening in various parts of our country and the world-over. Where is the joy in all of this? In our own lives we might be facing various trials of health, family tragedies, joblessness, financial insufficiency, and relationships that are almost on the rock. How can we be joyful with all these things going on around us and in our lives? It is worthy to note that when Saint Paul wrote this letters to the Philippians and told them to rejoice, he was not living in the best of situations. Not everything was o.k. for Paul. In fact, he wrote this letter as he was being persecuted and was fleeing from town to town. Paul simply wants his listeners to see that the joy which he preaching can be with us at all times, even in the most trying times. It does not take away the problems or pain that we might experiencing. It is a joy that come from the fact that we have a God who is always on our side. Our responsorial Psalm of today proclaims: “God indeed is my saviour; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my saviour. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation” (Is 12:2).
Each group of persons that asked John the Baptist what they were to do in their actual state of life were told something relating to what they did for a living. To the general crowd, the tax collectors, the soldiers, etc., he called their attention to being caring, truthful and honest in living their daily lives. We do not need any deep or prolonged reflection for any of us to come up with what John’s answer to us might be, were we to ask him what we should do during this Advent, while waiting for Coming of the Lord. To the husband and wife, he would tell them to treat each other with love and respect, and to be faithful in their marriage vows; to the children, do not make you parents sad by behaving badly; respect them. To those who govern the nation, he would say, stand for truth and justice in all aspects of your governance and work for the common good of the people. For civil servants, work honestly for what you earn from the contributions of the tax-payers. To people who are involved in arts, crafts, and rendering of basic services to the public, do an honest job whenever your services are needed. In this way, we will be happy, and be able to jubilate freely in the coming of our saviour – the IMMANUEL, “God-with-us”.