|Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10
|December 14-15, 2013, Third Sunday in Advent, Cycle A|
There is the old story about this guy named Bob who goes mountain climbing. Unfortunately he trips and falls off the edge of a very high cliff. As he is falling to certain death, he manages to grab onto the only tree growing out of the side of the cliff about 100 feet below the top. He hangs there, yelling at the top of his lungs for someone to help him. After a while he realizes that no one is around so he starts to pray. "God, I don't know if you really exist. I've never been much of a religious person but if you save me, I will put all my belief and trust in you for the rest of my life." He prays like this for a pretty long time as his arms get more and more tired. Just as he is nearing the end of his strength, he hears a voice: "Bob!" "Who's there?" he says. "This is God". Bob replies, "Oh God, thank you for answering my prayer. I'll never doubt you again. Save me". "I can't save you unless you put all your trust in me." Bob frantically replies, "I trust you; I trust you". God says to Bob, "Let go of the branch with your left hand." Bob lets go and says, "See I trust you. Please save me." Then God says, "Now let go of the branch with your right hand." Long silence. All of a sudden Bob starts yelling, "Is there anyone else up there?"
As I listen to this Gospel I have to confess that it is easy to identify with Bob. The God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is not easy to trust enough to let go with both hands. In some ways this is a strange story about John the Baptist. Many commentators say this is probably a story that reflects a post resurrection debate between the disciples of John the Baptist and those of Jesus rather than something that happened during Jesus' lifetime. After all didn't John leap in his mother's womb when Mary came to visit Elizabeth; wasn't he the one who said he was unworthy to fasten Jesus' sandals? and heard the heavens open up and the Father's voice say, "this is my beloved Son"? So why all of a sudden is he not sure that Jesus is the chosen one?
Maybe it is because Jesus is not the kind of Messiah John had hoped for: one who would baptize with fire, and who would clear the threshing floor and burn the chaff in an unquenchable fire? Instead of fires and winnowing and axes chopping at the root, Jesus has John's disciples report that those who are blind see, those who are deaf hear, those who are lame leap for joy, and on top of that, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them! No wonder John's disciples are leery about letting go of John with both hands. No wonder I have to question whether I am in that same boat.
Basically this Gospel is what Pope Francis has been saying (and doing): if you want to be Catholic let your life show it. If we are to be disciples of Jesus, then we have to do what he did, and as he promised, even greater things. I just want to share three little stories from the news recently that illustrate what Jesus calls us to if we want to really be Catholic.
The first is the story of Nelson Mandela, who came out of 27 years of imprisonment, and more than twice that of suffering under a brutal culture of racism and oppression, to foster a spirit of reconciliation and acceptance. He sought to free not only the prisoners but the prison guards as well.
The second story was that of Terri Roberts, who once a week, spends time with a 13-year-old Amish girl named Rosanna who sits in a wheelchair and eats through a tube. Roberts bathes her, sings to her, reads her stories. She can only guess what's going on inside Rosanna's mind, because the girl can't talk. Roberts' son did this to her. Terri is the mother of Charles Roberts who killed five young Amish girls and wounded Rosanna and 4 others before killing himself. The Amish community immediately embraced Robert's family, offering forgiveness and support. Now in turn Terri has become a messenger of the power of forgiveness and peace.
The third story is about the workers at the Nervous Dog Coffee Shop in Stow, Ohio. Surveillance video showed a man reaching into the tip jar and walking out with a handful of tip money. But instead of filing charges or even just bad mouthing him, the workers decided that if he was desperate enough to steal that money, the man was probably in a bad way and so they have initiated a fund raiser at their two locations and have publicly offered the proceeds to the man if he came forward. Quite a few commentators on their Facebook page condemned them for encouraging crime but they have maintained their show of good will toward the man.
Let me end with this. You no doubt have heard the cry to keep Christ in Christmas. I would suggest the worst way to do that is to beat people over the head with anger and an insistence that they say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. The better way to respond to Happy Holidays is to help those who are weak to have courage, and those who are frightened to be strong, those who are mute to sing, and to proclaim the good news to the poor and rich alike. Then Christ will be alive and kicking this Christmas and the whole year!