11 December 2010

JOY IN THE DUNGEON

3rd Sunday of Advent

Mt 11:2-11

Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, the imperative form of the infinitive verb “gaudare”, means “Rejoice!” in Latin. The liturgy commands us to rejoice because the Lord Jesus is already near. Our waiting is almost over. Christmas is just around the corner.

But the Gospel today opens in the dark of a dungeon. Quite an absurd place for being joyful. John the Baptist was imprisoned. He openly denounced King Herod for divorcing his own wife and taking his brother’s wife, Herodias. A puppet of the Roman colonizers, Herod was afraid of any political unrest that might cause him the throne; thus, he had John the Baptist imprisoned in a fortress east of the Dead Sea. But while he would not release John from prison, Herod could not have him executed either because he was captivated by the words of the Baptist. Besides, he knew that John was telling the truth about his moral decay. Herod was, in fact, a prisoner of his prisoner. Later, however, and much to his regret, Herod would have John beheaded to the sway of Herodias’ daughter’s dance.

Last Sunday, the Gospel was also about John the Baptist. Remember how he spoke of Jesus as one who would bring a fiery judgement, a dispenser of wrath whose ax was already in his hand, ready to cut the tree from its roots. That was John’s image of the Messiah. Now while in prison, he heard what Jesus was doing: healing the sick, blessing the people, mingling with public sinners, preaching about love and mercy. It seemed that Jesus was a world away from what John imagined. Thus, even from prison, he sent emissaries to Jesus to ask if He indeed was the Messiah. The voice shouting in the wilderness is now the voice asking from the dungeon.

Jesus’ reply to John’s question was not “of course, I am the one.” Rather, He pointed to His works: the sick are healed, the dead – both in spirit and in body – are raised to new life, and the good news is preached to the poor. Clearly, the words of the Prophet Isaiah, (read in the 1st reading today) were being fulfilled in the very person of Jesus. Those who want to know who Jesus really is must recognize who He really is through His words and deeds. What He does and says show who Jesus really is. Recognizing Jesus is really a decision of faith. Jesus cannot make it for anyone. He cannot make it for John. He cannot make it for any of us.

Having answered John’s question, Jesus praised him. “No man born of any woman is there greater than John,” Jesus said. Indeed John is the greatest of all the prophets because, even without him knowing it, prophecy begins to be fulfilled in him. But the least in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus continued, is greater than John. He who is born of a woman is born of the flesh, but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is born of the spirit. Those born of the spirit are those make the decision of faith.

Apparently, John is confused. The dungeon can blur our vision and deaden our senses. Sufferings, especially unjust suffering, can make us doubt or throw us into confusion. Joy is an absurdity to the imprisoned.

We all have our dungeons in life. They can be great or small. They are not only places, for they can also be people and situations. What are your dungeons? The 3rd Sunday of Advent commands us to find joy in our dungeon. St. John of the Cross said, “Find love and where there is no love, put love and you will find love.” In the same spirit, we say, “Find joy and where there is no joy, put joy and you will find joy.” Finding joy in our dungeons is finding Jesus in our sufferings. Putting joy where there is no joy is bringing Jesus where there are sufferings. But in this great task, we must first be sure that we recognize who Jesus really is. For how can we find Jesus or bring Him to others when we ourselves are confused about His identity?

As Jesus went about His public ministry, questions about His identity never faded. But whenever He gets questions from people, He would point to what God – His Father – is doing in and through Him as He stayed loyal to His mission. He never ran away when people doubted Him. And when His critics would imprison Him in their pejorative categories, He simply continued His task of doing the Father’s business. He never allowed them to confine Him in any dungeon, for He knew that dungeons are not the best place for clarity. When it came to His own time of pain, Jesus had a few questions Himself. The last one, in fact, was a borrowed phrase from the psalms (Mt 27:46): “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

The question of John is our question too. And there is only one answer to his question and ours: Jesus, indeed, is the Messiah. He is the joy of the world. He our joy in the dungeon.

2 Comments:

At 11:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let us pray for God’s grace and blessing to overcome the ‘dungeon’ in our life. Here’s my favorite prayer of St. Francis of Assissi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 
At 11:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love to sing this version of St. Francis of Assissi's Prayer..

Here's the link..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9-FlrMTLn8

 

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