Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Baptists' Doubt

I generally try to refrain from commenting on the Sunday Gospel readings in my posts; I've always felt that was better left to the homilists, our priests, to proclaim from the pulpit as they are ordained to do.  But today I could not help but share some thoughts on today's Gospel passage, that contains such a striking and representative dialogue between John the Baptist and the Messiah, the Christ whose coming it was his mission to announce.

The passage, Matthew 11:2-11, opens with John, from behind prison bars, posing a very direct question to the Christ, "Are you really he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  Put a bit more plainly, John, who leapt in Elizabeth's womb at the sound of Mary's greeting as she carried the Savior of the world (Luke 1:44), is now faced with a twinge of doubt.  He is essentially asking the same question that everyone who dares to call themselves a Christian must ask of Christ at some point, and that more than likely we ask multiple times throughout our lives: Are you really who you say you are, the Messiah, the Holy One of God?

John's doubt, just like our doubt, is never a bad thing in and of itself.  God encourages us to question him, to seek him out, because it is only in doing so that we look beyond ourselves and come to know him more deeply.  It is our attitude that determines whether the doubt is ultimately an avenue to spiritual fruit--salvation--or destruction.  More on that in a second...

First, let's briefly examine Jesus' response.  Far from rebuking John's questioning, he uses it as an opportunity to reaffirm John as the one who was prophesied from of old to herald the coming of God in the flesh (Isaiah 40:3).  In doing so, he accomplishes two very specific things, which he also seeks to accomplish in each and every one of us if we are truly open to his will.

First, he quells John's doubt and offers him the satisfaction from despair, that his life and suffering have not been in vain.  Isn't that what we all long for, reassurance that all of the hardships we face in this life, especially the ones that come because we are striving to live an authentic Christian life, are not in vain?  Although Christ may not always give us the comfort of feeling that we are living and suffering for a purpose, he gives us something much more important than feeling:  he gives us fact.  He gives Himself, the Truth incarnate, as an assurance (see my previous post about fact vs. feelings).  He gives us the Eucharist, a blessing beyond compare that not even the Baptist himself was able to partake of during his life and mission on Earth ("yet he who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he").

Second, in reaffirming John's mission, he also, in a roundabout way, confirms his own identity as the Savior, the God-Man who a fallen world has longed for since the first sin.  He brings everything back to himself, because ultimately it is only in him that anything has purpose and meaning.  Apart from him our lives are purposeless; apart from him we can do nothing (cf John 15:5).

Ultimately, within our dialogue with Christ, our attitude and openness to his reply is the avenue that allows his salvation to take effect in our lives.  Either we end up closed like the Pharisees, with an agenda of constantly trying to trap Jesus in his own words and refusing to surrender their own self-centered view, or we end up like John here.  Like him, like the Samaritan woman at the well, and like the many other saints who have asked openly and honestly, who have sought to know God as he his, not as we would make him to be, and to live according to the Truth of his reply, if we are open to him the kingdom that he has promised will become our inheritance.  Christ stands always at the door, ready to answer "anyone who has ears to hear."  Let us, like John, ask humbly and honestly, and be willing to receive him regardless of the consequences, because we know that the eternal consequence that he has promised for those who love him are far beyond anything we could ever imagine.


1 comment:

  1. I just found your blog and I love it! I'm teaching our confirmation class this year and I'll definitly share your blog with them.