This Sunday is “Gaudete Sunday” which means “Rejoice!”. In times past when this was a time of fasting, the third Sunday was seen as a little respite from fasting. It was a time to rejoice that Christmas was very near now. The pink candle is lit. Pink is a gentle colour, so different from the penitential purple! It is the colour of the innermost heart. So for us it could be an invitation to open wide our hearts to welcome in the Christ child this Christmas.
In this Sunday’s gospel we meet John the Baptist again and some of his disciples. We also meet Jesus.
I would like to begin with John. In the first line of the gospel we learn that he is in prison. This must have been agony for him. He was a man used to the outdoors, to desert places and wide, open spaces and now he is confined to a narrow, underground cell. But at least he can talk to some of his disciples. He sends them to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or have we to wait for someone else?” There are, I’m sure, many reasons for John asking this question. I like to see it as John becoming more and more aware that Jesus is behaving in a very different way to the way he went about things. So he is wondering if Jesus is really the one who is to come. John preached divine holiness with divine punishment. Jesus also preached divine holiness but with the immensity of his Father’s love.
Now let us meet with Jesus. He, no doubt, welcomes John’s disciples, hears their question from John and answers it. He simply invites them to go back to John and tell him what they have heard and seen Jesus doing, what is actually happening. Jesus is not looking to engage in an intellectual debate, but wants everyone to experience the changing power of God’s love.
In the next part of the gospel, when John’s disciples have left, he turns to his own disciples and pays wonderful tributes to John. He asks them about when they went into the desert to meet John did they expect to see someone like a “reed blowing in the wind” or “a courtier wearing fine clothes?” He negates both of these images. Then he asks them if they expected to meet a prophet. He affirms this image of John.
Let us take a brief look at what a prophet is. Prophets are those with God’s wisdom in their minds, God’s truth on their lips and God’s courage in their hearts. This describes John very accurately. I would suggest that this is also our calling. Jesus goes on to call John “the forerunner, preparing a way for all”.
This image reminds me of a story I read some time ago. A man was reflecting back on his childhood. He remembered watching daily for the lamplighter who each evening carefully lit all the street lamps. The lamplighter was actually blind. He could not see the light he was passing on!
That got me reflecting on John as “the forerunner”, who was “preparing the way” without knowing what that way would be. I began thinking of all those “forerunners” who have gone before us preparing the way for others without knowing what it would be. I thought of my late parents and grandparents who prepared the way for me to go forward in my life. Indeed many other selfless “forerunners” came to mind. I’m sure the same will happen to you as you reflect with gratitude on your “forerunners”.
This brought me back to John’s question at the beginning of the gospel: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we have to wait for someone else?” I imagine Jesus saying that: Yes, his way is different to John’s but that John did the preparation and enabled Jesus to step across the threshold into “The New”.
I think of Pope Francis in our time doing the same. He ruffles feathers and often “causes chaos”! I think of those who heartily disagree with “his way” and I also think of those who admire him and are deeply grateful for his courage.
So where are you in all of this? What is challenging you in this gospel passage and what gives you hope?