Memorial, St. John of the Cross

Scripture Readings for December 14, 2017

Isaiah 41:13-20, Psalm 145:1, 9, 10-13, Matthew 11:11-15

If yesterday’s readings were about a Savior who is humble and meek in his behavior today is about the God who acts decisively with strong significant moves that everyone can see. Isaiah leads the way by saying, “Fear not, I will help you.” God will take care of the poor and hungry people who need help. Bringing rivers and springs to deserts and dry land, planting trees and making it fruitful. These are big clear, public actions.

I think this type of dramatic action by God is the key to understanding Jesus and his talk about John the Baptist in today’s reading from Matthew. Jesus is trying to explain the turning point that is taking place in salvation history right before these people’s eyes. Therefore, I believe that verse twelve is best understood in terms of its alternate translation, “the Kingdom of God is powerfully establishing itself despite all obstacles.” Not violence against the Kingdom but forceful moves by the Kingdom to create space for itself. I think that fits as Jesus’ summary of John’s actions to fulfill all of the Old Testament prophesy and law that have gone before. He sees John as the embodiment of Elijah, the one who would precede the appearance of the Holy One of God.

People ought to be paying attention to these events because they now must make a choice. The law and the prophets have all predicted this coming of God’s Reign. People no longer can avoid a choice by claiming it is something to come on some undefined future day. This is the day. If John is the foretold Elijah then now is the time of judgment. Not as John understood judgment in fire and brimstone terms, but because Jesus is the water in the desert, the expression of God’s love in the here and now. Each person must either embrace this reality or forfeit the peace and plenty that is offered. In other words, Jesus is God’s dramatic, historical action.

The message for us, as I see it is verse 15, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” We too are part of the time period that the historical presence of Jesus inaugurated. So the issue is the same for us, we have to choose. Do we live recognizing that a loving, caring approach to the world is part of a Divine pathway to a better, fuller life or do we look for happiness and fulfillment elsewhere? Personally, I’m not sure the choice for living in this way has to have a religious motivation for it to be effective for us personally or the planet. However, religious faith is the way I and others have come to a point where we think honesty, generosity, love and care for others is the best and most fulfilling approach to life. But it’s a choice. One that isn’t necessarily easy or obvious depending on our background, experience and inclination. The challenge it seems to me is that we actually have to make the choice. It isn’t about thinking something is a nice or even great idea. It’s about having to face all the times when: it would be more convenient to lie, take the accepted path, go along, ignore the consequences, turn our back or in that moment, choose that love, honesty and concern is better. Not an easy thing to do. Patterns of behavior make it difficult to face the challenge of the moment in the moment it must be faced. “Oops I should have…” is not a good excuse but a persistent reality. It is better to be honest with oneself about what is happening right now … and choose.

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