Year A: Third Sunday of Advent

Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?

Matthew 11: 2-11

When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another? ”Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Jesus’ to John)

As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.” Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Both John and his disciples were expecting a very different messiah from what they found in Jesus. They did not recognize him. Has your idea or expectations of who Jesus is changed over the years?
  2. Jesus probes the crowd about why they went into the desert, what were they looking for? Looking into the heart to see what drives us is not an easy task. (It is like being in the desert) When you examine your heart this Advent season, what are looking for?
  3. Do you think the idea of Christ as judge, is comforting or frightening for you? Explain.

Biblical Context

Dr Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

We move now from the third chapter of Matthew, in which John the Baptist announced the coming of one greater than he, to the eleventh chapter, in which John sends his own disciples to ask Jesus whether or not he is “the one who is to come,” the expected messiah. For many of us this question comes as a surprise. Didn’t John recognize Jesus?

In Matthew’s Gospel John is arrested before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Immediately after Jesus’ temptation in the desert, and before his public ministry begins, Matthew tells us that, ‘When he [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee… (Matt 4:12). So John did not witness Jesus’ ministry; he simply heard about it while he was in prison.

The question that John’s disciples ask Jesus is, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” The fact that they had to ask this question reveals that the kind of messiah they expected was quite different from the kind of messiah that Jesus turned out to be. Jesus was not immediately recognizable to them.

Jesus does not answer the question directly. He does not say, “Yes, I am the one who is to come.” Rather, Jesus draws the disciples’ attention to his works: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” When we read today’s Old Testament passage from Isaiah (Isa 35: l-6a) we will see that the signs Jesus names are the same signs that Isaiah names when he talks about the coming of the Lord:

Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag,

Scripture scholars suggest that John, like his contemporaries, did not immediately recognize Jesus as the expected messiah because he, too, expected a very different kind of messiah from what Jesus turned out to be. We saw in last week’s Gospel that John described the “one who is to come” in somewhat harsh terms. When John called the Pharisees and Sadducees “a brood of vipers,” he asked them, “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt 3:7). Then, in describing the ministry of the one who was to come John said, “His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:12). It seems that John was expecting a harsher and more judgmental messiah than Jesus turned out to be. Jesus knew that he was not what was expected; that is why Jesus says, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.

Jesus then speaks to the crowd about John. John is truly a great man, not because he speaks persuasively on the fad of the day (“A reed swayed by the wind”), and not because he is a rich celebrity (“someone dressed in fine clothing”), but because he is a prophet. The Jews had not had recent prophets. The last book in the works of the prophets is Malachi, which dates to the time after the Babylonian exile, some 450 years before Christ. Jesus is quoting Malachi when he says,

Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. However, Malachi pictures God saying; Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.

By changing Malachi’s “me” to “you,” Jesus is reinterpreting the passage to refer to himself. Jesus is stating what John said in last week’s Gospel: John is a great prophet because he was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. The answer to John’s original question, “Are you the one who is to come?” is “Yes.” Jesus is the longed-for messiah, but he is a very different kind of messiah from what John and his contemporaries expected.

Joy is in the Ministry

Deacon Ross Beaudoin

During the first Holy Week after he was elected, Pope Francis raised a few eyebrows and opened many eyes. On that Holy Thursday he visited a prison for young people where he celebrated the annual washing of the feet. Not only did he wash the feet of Catholics, he included Muslims and women in the ritual. This was a big surprise for many Catholics, especially some clergy. For centuries, the Holy Thursday washing of the feet had been exclusively reserved to Catholic men.

During this past year, the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope initiated a custom of going out of the Vatican one Friday a month to perform some “work of mercy.” In August the Holy Father went to a home for women recovering from prostitution, many of whom had been victims of trafficking. This, too, was an eye-opener for many people.

In the Gospel today, John the Baptist, in prison for following his conscience, sent a group of his disciples to talk to Jesus. Unsure of whether Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, John’s message to Jesus was, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus responded using a clear reference to Isaiah 35:5-6: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.”

If someone were to ask Pope Francis, “Are you the Holy Father who was chosen for the church?” could he not answer in words much like Jesus’? We see in Pope Francis the works of love and mercy that we saw in Jesus.

In two weeks we will sing, “Joy to the world.” The liturgy calls us to rejoice already today. “Gaudete,” rejoice! The coming of our Savior is at hand. Joy ought not be put off. Even as we work to prepare the way of the Lord we do it with light hearts, for we know that our Savior is coming to us soon.

In the first reading we hear this proclamation from Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus.” Sometimes we experience our own lives as being barren as a wilderness and as parched as a desert. During those trying times it may be hard for us to be glad and rejoice when we are struggling.

The same is true for others. Sometimes people – perhaps even people very close to us – may be hurting or struggling, may feel like their lives are hopeless, barren and dry. How can they find a cause for joy and gladness?

For inspiration this Advent, we need only look to examples set by Jesus and by Pope Francis. Their actions have brought comfort and healing to countless people. Their love and mercy have brought hope and joy.

What if someone were to ask us the question put to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” How would we answer?

Jesus ascended to the Father when he had completed his work on this earth. He left it to us to continue his work here. The hungry will be fed, the homeless will be sheltered, the lonely will be visited … and all will find a cause for great joy when each baptized person continues the ministry and compassion of Jesus.

And we will find our own joy, too, as Jesus ministers to us through others, even (or especially) the ones to whom we are ministering.

Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.