|[Editorial Note: By special arrangement, we will be able
to post the homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on Monday, the day after
it is given, rather than wait until after Christmas.]
The very last words of the message Jesus
sent John the Baptist were certainly a great blessing for him, but also
a challenge. Jesus said, and he was speaking this to John, “Blessed
is the one who is not scandalized in me.” The word scandalize refers
to a stumbling block. So Jesus is saying, “Blessed is the one who
does not find me a stumbling block, someone I cannot cope with.”
We might be surprised to think that John the
Baptist could have been scandalized at Jesus, could have found Jesus a
stumbling block for himself. Yet, if you look into the situation
of John at that moment, it certainly is very possible that he wasn’t ready
to hear what Jesus was saying. That he was finding Jesus a stumbling
John had been such a great prophet. Crowds
of people in huge numbers were coming to hear him. He was proclaiming
God’s word and had stepped aside for Jesus and pointed him out as the one
who was to come. But now John is in jail and that must have been
a very humiliating situation for John, very debilitating.
I’m sure that jails were very cruel.
The situation of being in jail can be physically very difficult.
And John probably was wondering if he had made a mistake. He was
truly expecting Jesus to come and make the reign of God happen. Yet,
At that time, as you may know, there were lots
of different ideas about what the messiah would be like when the messiah
finally came. There were those who thought that the messiah would
be from the priestly class, someone who was rich, wealthy, privileged.
Others thought the messiah would be a great prophet leader, like Moses,
who would take the chosen people to a whole new way of life. Others
thought the messiah would be a warrior king like David who would overthrow
the oppressors and establish the reign of God through physical power and
John might have expected Jesus to come and
free him from jail. But what does Jesus say to John? “Go and
tell John what’s happening right now. Tell John what’s happening.
Blind people are being given their sight. Lame people are able to
walk. Those who are deaf can now hear.” And maybe, most importantly,
“The poor are having the good news proclaimed to them.” Jesus is
telling John very plainly that the reign of God is happening.
John knew his scriptures. When he heard
those words, he surely would have thought of that passage from Isaiah,
which was our first reading today, where Isaiah proclaims how the blind
are to receive their new sight and so on. But in that passage Isaiah
also says, “The wilderness and the arid land rejoice. The desert
will be glad and blossom. Where there was nothing but aridness, now
there will be life. It will be covered with flowers. The desert
itself will sing and shout with joy. They my people will see the
glory of God.”
John also knew the passage where Isaiah proclaims,
“The spirit of God is upon me. God sends me to proclaim good news to the
poor.” John was being challenged by Jesus to recognize that the reign
of God really was happening and that John should have no reason to doubt
Jesus and that Jesus was indeed the one who was to come.
Now if we think about the situation of John
and project it into our own time, when we live in a period of violence,
suffering and death, terrible violence in the whole world around us, perhaps
we have some of the same doubts as John. Are you the one who is to
come? Is Jesus really the one who is to transform our whole world
into the reign of God? Is the way of Jesus really the way to bring
peace, to bring fullness of life, to bring joy into our lives and into
Or are we finding ourselves perhaps scandalized at Jesus?
Finding Jesus a stumbling block when he tells us to love your enemy, do
good to the one who hurts you, return good for evil?
Maybe we want a messiah who is like a warrior
king. And, yet, could we really visualize Jesus, a Jesus who reaches
out to the poor, the marginalized? Jesus who heals and who gives
life? Could we ever visualize Jesus as a warrior, one calling up
a whole arsenal of weapons to rain death and destruction on other people?
Could we think of Jesus calling forth B-52 bombers, fuel air explosives,
the most sophisticated and destructive arsenal that ever existed?
Could we really think of Jesus that way, as we’ve come to know Jesus through
But the problem is: Are you and I truly
ready to accept who Jesus is? This messiah who isn’t a warrior king?
Who empties himself and becomes poor? Who becomes the servant of
everyone? Are we really ready to accept that kind of Jesus?
Especially with what’s happened during this
past week, it must be extraordinarily difficult for those who suffered
the loss of someone on September 11 to have heard the words of Osama bin
Ladin. It must fill their hearts with extreme anguish to see the
television where he is laughing and rejoicing at what happened, maybe anger
or a deep desire to get even. Yet, this Jesus, who is the one to
come, still says, “No, that is not the way.” Retaliation, revenge,
destruction, these are not the way to Jesus as he reveals himself to John
today and as he continually reveals himself to us through the gospel.
But is Jesus a stumbling block for me?
That’s the question I have to ask.
I find it helpful to know that there are people
that have experienced first hand the grief and suffering of September 11
and yet who say, “I will follow the way of Jesus.”
Just this past week, I heard from a friend
of mine who is on the staff of a college. He told me that they had
a memorial service there because one of the other staff members (teacher)
at the college had a daughter who was killed on September 11. And
this father, who experienced that terrible loss, spoke at the memorial
service. Here’s part of what he said. “As the war goes on and the
violence makes way toward more violence, I feel the sad irony of the season
of peace and joy. How many truly know the meaning of peace and have
experienced the fullness of joy where peace is not merely the absence of
war or a ceasefire in the midst of battle? Or the perpetual readiness
for war with nuclear missiles aimed at strategic targets around the world?
Peace is that feeling of God within us and
the faith that God will guide us toward love and understanding. Peace
exists in the absence of hate, distrust, jealousy, anger, revenge, avarice
and fear. Peace comes from being in harmony with all of God’s creation
and feeling the connectedness to all of life.
Waging war on other peoples because we don’t
understand them is not the way toward peaceful coexistence. This
is the chosen way of cavemen and primitive cultures throughout history
and we continue to perpetuate this atrocity by narrow-mindedly viewing
solutions that do not solve the underlying problems.
Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up better
than I possibly could when he stated, ‘The ultimate weakness of violence
is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to
destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it through violence.
You may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence
merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence, multiplies
violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.’
The tragic events of September 11 and the loss
of our dear daughter will forever change the world. There exists
within each of us an opportunity to strive for new understanding, to raise
human consciousness, to grow in love directed by God’s truth, to reach
out to our brothers and sisters from around the world, to make a difference
in ways that will ultimately lead to peace and harmony, and to experience
the joy of heaven here on earth.
By our choices and our actions, we can make
a difference. May God be with all of us in this time of spiritual
transformation and may you feel God’s love within your hearts, see God’s
truth within your mind, and experience the true peace and ultimate joy
that comes from God throughout the season in which we celebrate the birth
of the Christ Child on this earth and within each of us.”
This is a person who did not find Jesus a stumbling
block. He’s ready to accept the way of Jesus and knows that even
the death of his daughter can be something that can be transformed into
a gift of new life. If we are willing to follow the way of Jesus,
then we can really bring peace into our world. If we want a warrior
king, one who uses violence, there will be no peace. Each of us,
I think, has to ask ourselves: How do we respond when Jesus says,
‘Blessed is the one who is not scandalized in me.’
Is Jesus a stumbling block or is he, for each
of us, the way to peace? Only you and I can answer that question
in our own hearts. But if we really answer the question and commit
ourselves to follow the way of Jesus, just as this father found peace in
his heart, so will we find peace in our heart. And we will be able
then to bring that peace into our world.
Blessed are all of us who do not find Jesus
to be a stumbling block, but rather find Jesus as the way to peace.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and
of the Holy Spirit. Amen.