I think an image we may have on John the Baptist might be that of a severe, intense man, a man committed to a mission. He comes in from his life in the desert, dishevelled in his camel robe tied with leather belt. He calls people to return to the ways of God from which many of them had wandered. His message was clear for all to hear, repent and change your ways. John was not intimidated by anyone, not even the king. He told King Herod it was not lawful to be married to his brother’s wife and this landed him in prison and cost him his life.
It was only after John’s arrest that Jesus, who John knew to be someone special, began his own mission echoing the message of John but in a different way. John’s disciples kept him up to date on what this new preacher was about. Jesus seemed to lack the intensity of John’s preaching. Maybe John and his followers felt Jesus was watering down the call to repentance. So in today’s gospel we have their interesting question for Jesus, ‘are you he who is to come or should we look for another’?
Jesus sends these good men back to John to tell John about Jesus and his works. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, even the dead are raised and most important of all the poor, the little people of the land have the good news of God’s loved brought to them through the teachings and the works of Jesus. These words of Jesus echo the words of Isaiah who saw such works as a sign of Messianic times.
Are you he who is to come or should be look to another? The teaching of Jesus regarding love and justice, peace and reconciliation fall on deaf ears these days, even within the church itself. We breathe in the air that surrounds us, an atmosphere on wanting and having more – especially during the buying frenzy that happens at this time of the year. We know we are a wasteful, disposable society. We trash things and we trash people, we trash relationships. We allow ourselves to weary of the cry of the poor and feel we have no obligation to those who have less than ourselves. So we do look for another to fulfill our idea of the good life, the fulfilled life.
As Pope Francis wrote recently, This “culture of waste” tends to become the common mentality that infects everyone. Human life, the person is no longer perceived as a primary value to be respected and protected, especially if poor or disabled, if not yet useful – such as the unborn child – or no longer needed – such as the elderly. This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
But there is another side to the reality of our times. There is goodness in this world of ours, in this country of ours, in this parish of ours. With a sense of justice and charity good people reach out to others in need, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. By their deeds of kindness, their generosity towards those who have less, by their efforts to bring about fairness and justice in places of work, by people taking the time to visit the sick and shut-ins, people mentoring students who have difficulty learning, by showing respect to people of other faiths, cultures and life styles – through all these good works by good men and women other people who were blind come to see the goodness in others, other people open their ears to the cries of the poor, the homeless, the over worked and under paid. Because of the good works of good people, other people crushed by the unjust policies of governments or corporations find the strength to stand up and speak out for change. Just as an example, our social ministry in Honduras and Jamaica would not be possible were it not for the generosity and social awareness of college students who volunteer for two years to work with us in these places.
With our eyes of faith fixed on Jesus, listening to his words and imitating his works we need not look for another. We can make a difference in our world, our church, our parish as we struggle every day to be the kind of person Christ calls us to be, people who love as we’ve been loved, heal as we’ve been healed, forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Being true to the example and teachings of Jesus we need not look for another.