HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (YEAR A)
HOMILY THEME: NONE GREATER THAN JOHN: WHERE LIES GREATNESS?
BY: Fr. Precious Ezeh
The third Sunday of Advent brings us closer to the joys of Christmas. The Catholic tradition terms it the “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete, meaning “Rejoice”, shows the mood with which the Mother Church anticipates the Redeemer.
The Gospel of today evokes a great reflection on what true greatness consists of. In today’s Gospel reading, something rather curious and ironical takes place. While John the famous precursor of the Messiah appears to be in doubt about the Messiah, the Messiah is the one who is found witnessing to John.
John the Baptist was now in prison for condemning Herod the Tetrarch who took his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, as Matthew would relate subsequently in chapter 14. He sent word to Jesus, saying: “are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?”
This is rather ironical. What could have prompted John to ask such a doubtful question? I remember when I came as a newly ordained priest to assist in a parish in my Diocese, I still had a passion for sports, thus one evening, after a very entertaining basketball game in a nearby University, I came back to the rectory only to discover that an elderly woman had been waiting for a while to greet their new priest. Seeing me in my sports gear, sweating profusely, even as the boys in the Parish were directing her to me, the woman couldn’t help asking with an unconcealed doubt, “are you really the new priest?” It was obvious that she had anticipated an older face enrobed in an immaculate flowing white robe, certainly not this energetic youngster in sports wears standing before her. I simply didn’t look much what she expected!
John came to witness to the Messiah. He like other Jews had his expectations of what the Messiah should be. John was ascetic and breathed fury over sin and sinners. He probably anticipated a Messiah whose greatness would overwhelm Herold and all world leaders, who would quickly rid the world of evil. However, Jesus’s demeanor was rather confusing. He was gentle with sinners and dined with tax collectors. Now while John was in prison on account of the Gospel, Jesus was not yet showing signs of redeeming him or anyone for that matter. Thus, overtaken by his tribulations, John had to ask ‘are you really the Messiah?’.
When the question was put before Jesus, he did not give a direct answer. He referred John to the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61:1. He says: “go and tell John what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life, and the poor have good news preached to them”. And Jesus had to add, “and blessed is the one who takes no offence at me”. How important was this addition! Jesus must have sensed the disappointment and frustration of John, thus he wanted him to keep up and to remain guided.
However, when the people left, Jesus began his full testimony of John (Matt. 11:7-15). Addressing the crowd, who had found succour in Jesus following the imprisonment of John, Jesus revealed to them the value of John. He had no earthly glamour, yet while in the desert, he attracted men to himself. He had something that earthly treasures and glamour could not offer. He had the Goood News! He was not just a prophet but the direct precursor of the Messiah. He was not just a great man, but among those born of women, there has been none greater than John! However, he was still less than the least in the kingdom of heaven.
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This testimony of Jesus about John shows him faithful to his promise in Matt. 10:32, “whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven”. John witnessed to Jesus, thus Jesus is witnessing to John. While John was still in prison, Jesus was beatifying him before men. The final acknowledgement is in heaven! Jesus witnesses to all who would witness to him with their lives in the presence of men.
In our world today, true values have been traded for worthless things. Both in the Churches and in the society, people of low morals are given merit awards and are honoured simply because they are rich. Sometimes, it seems evil is rewarded while righteousness brings contempt.
As Christians, we have to draw our values from Jesus as shown in today’s gospel.
In John, Jesus affirms that earthly glamour is not what makes for greatness. John was greatest of all born of women but had no cloths but animal skin, no food but locusts, no house and indeed was in prison, yet Jesus ranked him greatest among men. Therefore, no matter what we have and whatever position we occupy, our net worth cannot compare with a faithful relationship with God.
Secondly, we are assured of God’s faithfulness. No matter what our situation on earth might be, God still knows our worth. We are encouraged to exercise patience as we see in the second reading taken from James 5:7-10. We should only have recourse to God who is aware of everything and keeps reward for every good work.
May these words be blessed in our hearts as we seek to repose our value in God through Christ Our Lord, amen.
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