2016-12-11, 3rd Advent A, Vindication

Homily 12-11-16
3rd Sunday Advent, Cycle A
Is 35:1-6a, 10; Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

(Scriptures included after homily)

PreambleAs I was sitting there listening to our first reader’s beautiful proclamation of Isaiah’s prophesy, I was imagining if someone like Eeyore, the little donkey from Winnie the Pooh, would have read it.  (slow, depressing)  Could you just hear it!  I think we would have lost the whole point of the reading!

Rejoice!

Besides the fact that we’re half-way through our penitential season of Advent; which also means that we’re half-way to Christmas; our Scriptures today leave us with lots of reasons for Rejoicing!

For example, in our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah gives the wearied, enslaved and exiled Israelites, God’s promise of healing and freedom.

In our second reading, St. James promises the Apostles and the early Church, that with patient endurance, the Lord will return to them, with justice.

And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promises the Blessings of His Kingdom to all who believe in Him.

Freedom, Reunion, Justice and Blessings, truly reasons for Rejoicing

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And yet. You know what?
It all sounded pretty cushy, pretty Pollyanna to me.

So why ARE we still suffering?

Why are there still: blind, deaf, lame, and poor people in our world?

And WHY – is John the Baptist, of all people, asking IF Jesus is the Messiah?

It really seemed – that there was a little more to these Scriptures, than just the hype of Rejoicing.  So let’s dig a little deeper, and see if we can find some answers.

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When I first read the Scriptures for today, three words stood out to me: Vindication, Patience, and of course Rejoicing.

And before I dove into the significance of those terms, I had to find the answer to the John the Baptist question.  How could John, not have known that his own cousin, Jesus, was the Messiah?

As it turned out, the answer to that question, tied directly into the significance of: Vindication, Patience and Rejoicing.

So what was it – that Matthew was trying to teach his readers, and us, through this episode of John’s question?

Well, to begin with, we have to remember that Matthew was not writing his Gospel to the Gentiles; who had NO understanding of the Jewish Scriptures.  Matthew was writing to the Jews who were very familiar with the Torah, the first 5-Books of the Bible, and the writings of the Prophets, like Isaiah.

And this preferential direction of Matthew’s Gospel to the Jews, revealed itself in the way that Matthew continuously reflected back to how Jesus fulfilled the prophesies of a Messiah in the Old Testament: “The blind will see, the lame will walk, the dead will be raised, and the poor will be educated.”

And of course, John the Baptist was well versed in all of those Scriptures.

So when Jesus answered John’s, Jewish disciples – with His own, real-life examples of those miracles, they immediately understood that He WAS – their promised Messiah.

But that still doesn’t tell us – why John asked the question in the first place.

The Scripture Scholars give us two potential reasons.

The first, tells us – that it was not really John – who didn’t believe . . .  It was his disciples.

Remember, that it was John who saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus, like a dove, in His Baptism.

It was John who said that he was unworthy to even carry Jesus’ sandals!

And it was John the Baptist who actually testified – that
Jesus IS the Son of God.

So like any good teacher would have done, John sent his disciples off to find the answer – for themselves.

Sometimes we just learn better through experience!

You see, the problem was, with THEIR Belief. Which all pointed back to that word, Vindication, that the Prophet Isaiah promised in our First Reading, when he said:

“Here is your God,
He comes with Vindication;
with divine Recompense
He comes to save you.”
Is 35:4

Our interpretation of the meaning of the word Vindication is: Being proven that you were right, after having been accused unjustly.  It’s a form of Restorative Justice.

A simple example, might go something like this: If the Weatherman says that it’s going to snow; and we insist that the Weatherman is NEVER right; But then it DOES snow, just as predicted; then we could say that the Weatherman was Vindicated.  . . . At least this time!

The Prophet Isaiah tells us that God will not only Vindicate those who patiently endured unjust suffering, because of their belief in Him; but that God will reward them
with His Divine Recompense.

Of course, we all know that Patient Endurance is not always easy; whether it’s enduring: illness, or poverty, or persecution, or even, just our Advent penitence.

But, as St. James tells us: It’s well worth the suffering, BECAUSE of the Blessings of the Kingdom that we WILL receive . . . Our Divine Recompense!

In the end, we will not only be Vindicated, but we will be
Rewarded as well!
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So if Vindication is such a GOOD thing, then what was the problem with the disciples?

The PROBLEM was, that the original Hebrew word, which our Bible translated as Vindication, could also be translated as Vengeance . . .  And the word Recompense could be translated as Retribution.

And that’s a HUGE difference in what Isaiah actually said or meant.  Instead of justifying and rewarding those who were Good, this translation of Is 35:4, called for God’s Revenge on those who were bad!

Which would make Isaiah’s quote read something like this:

your God will come,
 he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
– he will come to save you.”   NIV

You see, many of the Jews, and possibly even John’s disciples, were seeking – just that kind of Vindictive Messiah, who would deal out revenge on those who didn’t please them.

Which was precisely the OPPOSITE of WHO Jesus was, of Everything Jesus taught, and of Who our God is!

And it’s just that philosophy of Revenge – that our world seems to thrive on today: from the games our kids play, to the movies we watch; from the way people drive, to the hatred and revenge that our media wants to make us believe – is acceptable.

It’s all contrary to God’s love!

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So the second interpretation of John the Baptist’s inquiry, was intended to answer his or his disciple’s question: as to whether the Jewish Messiah would exhibit that Vindictive nature of Revenge, or whether He would Vindicate and Reward His children with loving kindness and mercy.

I think, and I would hope, that we all know the answer to that question – because everything Jesus taught was based on Love, . . . and there is no Love in Revenge!

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You see, We ARE Vindicated through our Patient Endurance of whatever this life seems to throw at us.

We ARE Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, when revenge wants to eat away at our souls.

We are Enlightened by the Word, when hopelessness and despair want to darken our world.

And we are Fearless for the future, because we know that Divine Recompense, that Kingdom of God, that Jesus promised, is ours.

And THAT’s something to Rejoice about!

jmp 12-11-16

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Scripture Readings for the Mass of 12-11-16
Third Sunday of Advent, A

First Reading:  Is 35:1-6a, 10

The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: 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, then the tongue of the mute will sing.  Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10

R. Lord, come and save us.

The LORD God keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.

R. Lord, come and save us.

The LORD gives sight to the blind; the LORD raises up those who were bowed down. The LORD loves the just; the LORD protects strangers.

R. Lord, come and save us.

The fatherless and the widow he sustains, but the way of the wicked he thwarts.  The LORD shall reign forever; your God, O Zion, through all generations.

R. Lord, come and save us.

Reading 2: Jas 5:7-10

Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.  See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel: Mt 11:2-11

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus 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.”

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.

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