Thứ Bảy, 10 tháng 12, 2016


Third Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 7

Reading 1IS 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 PsalmPS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
R. (cf. Is 35:4) Lord, come and save us.
R. Alleluia.
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.
R. Alleluia.
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.
R. Alleluia.
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.
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2JAS 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.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelMT 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.”

3rd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A 

Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that passage. 


For the past two weeks we have heard of the Lord’s coming as judge of all at the end of time. The priest wears penitential purple during this season to help us realize our part in turning from God’s covenant and participating in acts of darkness (sin), although pink may be worn on this, “Gaudete”, Sunday. There are images of light and darkness interwoven throughout the season’s readings. The feeling of penitence comes as we force ourselves to compare our dreams, our great expectations, with reality. What keeps us from fulfillment in this moment? What hinders us from seeking the freedom that God offers us? Our fear of the unknown and our anxiety about taking risks often keeps us enslaved in our old ways and prevents us from reaching out for new ones. Our greed and possessiveness keep us from letting go of what we have so that we can seek the next step in life. God will free us from our enslavement to fear, injustice, poverty, negation, and disease if we simply let go and let Him guide us. 

Gaudete Sunday, in the preconciliar delineation of the liturgical year, was regarded as a day of particular joy with Advent half over and Christmas soon to follow. The term Gaudete refers to the first word of the Introit (Entrance Antiphon) “Rejoice”, taken from Philippians 4:4-5.

1st Reading - Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10 

In last week’s introduction to the first reading we heard that Isaiah was convinced that all Palestine would be laid waste by Yahweh because of the sinfulness of the people. Yet, there would be a remnant who will be the inheritors of the promises made to David. 

Undergirding the doctrine of the remnant was Isaiah’s faith in the divine control of history. Even in her greatest hour of trial, with Sennacherib (king of Assyria 705-681 B.C.) encamped under her walls, Jerusalem was promised deliverance if only she would place her trust in God. Isaiah’s faith coupled salvation with repentance and conversion to Yahweh. From this faith stemmed Isaiah’s conviction that Yahweh, faithful to His promises, would raise up a king from David’s line whose rule of peace and justice would replace the faithless and vacillating service of the kings who had ruled from David’s throne. 

Lebanon means “white”, probably because of the snows which cover the upper slopes most of the year. It is a chain of mountains extending north from Northern Galilee for about 106 miles. The average altitude is 10,000 feet (the Waters of Merom are 6 feet above sea level, the Sea of Galilee is 696 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is 1290 feet below sea level). 

the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;

Sharon is the beautiful and fertile coastal plain of Palestine between Jaffa (Joppa) and the Mount Carmel range. In ancient times it was heavily forested. 

They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. 3 Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, 4 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.

Not only in the face of outrageous injustice, but toward the ordinary trials of life 

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; 6 Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing.

The most unfortunate will be among the first to share the blessings. [In our gospel reading today we hear of the fulfillment of this prophecy (Matthew 11:5)]. The messianic age has arrived. 

10 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. 

This presupposes an exile of some sort. It could be the entering into the heavenly Jerusalem which has been opened by the sacrifice of Jesus which “ransoms” us. 

2nd Reading - James 5:7-10 

St. James is called “the younger” or “the less” to distinguish him from James the brother of John. He was the son of Alphaeus (Cleophas) and Mary (a close relative of Mary, mother of Jesus). On account of his close kinship with Jesus he is known as the “brother of the Lord.” 

Some years after the Ascension, he was appointed Bishop of Jerusalem by his fellow apostles. St. Paul numbers him, along with Peter and John, among the Pillars of the Church (part of the inner circle). He was called “the just” by his countrymen on account of the austerity of his life and his strict adherence to the Law of Moses. Josephus reports that he was stoned to death by order of the High Priest Ananus in A.D. 62 or 63 (Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1§197-203). 

Sometime between A.D. 50 and his death, James wrote his epistle to the Jewish Christians dwelling in Palestine and adjacent countries. Its immediate destination was probably Antioch, with its strong Jewish population. It was no doubt written from Jerusalem as it doesn’t seem that James ever left it. The main object of this letter is not to teach doctrine, but to improve morals. In the reading for today, these Jewish Christians are reminded of the need for patience, both in bearing the sufferings of human life and in their expectation of the coming of the Lord. When the Lord comes, it is then that they will receive their reward. 

7 Be patient, therefore, brothers,

Not only in the face of outrageous injustice, but toward the ordinary trials of life. 

until the coming of the Lord.

The parousia 

“The just judge will give you the rewards of your patience and will punish your adversaries with what they deserve. He sits at the door where he can watch everything you do, and he will come quickly to give each one whatever he or she deserves.” [Saint Bede the Venerable (ca. A.D. 700), Concerning the Epistle of St. James] 

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.

The early and late rains (winter and spring rains) is an Old Testament expression used often in the listing of God’s gifts (Deuteronomy 11:14; Joel 2:23). 

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

Don’t try to rush things, the parousia will occur at God’s appointed time. There are many New Testament expressions of the nearness of the parousia (which came in A.D. 70 for the Jews when the Temple, a microcosm of their world, was destroyed). 

9    Do not complain, brothers, about one another, that you may not be judged.

The Jews always seemed to “grumble” – Christians are called to maintain mutual relations within the community. 

Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.

The coming of the Lord is viewed as the coming of the judge. 

10    Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 

The persecution of Christians is seen as a prolongation of that of the prophets. The prophets did not change their teaching because it was unpopular and neither can we, the Church. 

“James tells us to look to the prophets, who never did anything wrong and who spoke the words of God’s Spirit to the people but who nevertheless suffered a terrible end at the hands of unbelievers – Zechariah, Uriah and the Maccabees, for example, not to mention John the Baptist, Stephen, James the son of Zebedee and many others in the new Testament. They did not complain at such an end but were willing to endure it. Others put up with long labors without complaining, for example, Noah who spent a hundred years building his ark, and Moses, who took forty years to lead his people out of slavery and into the promised land.” [Saint Bede the Venerable (ca. A.D. 700), Concerning the Epistle of St. James] 

Gospel - Matthew 11:2-11 

Last week we heard John the Baptist announce the coming of the messiah. This week we hear Jesus affirm that announcement. 

2 When John (the Baptist) heard in prison 

Matthew postpones the explanation of why John the Baptist is imprisoned until the story of his death (Matthew 14:3-12) [for publicly rebuking Herod Antiapas for his adulterous and incestuous marriage with Herodias (ex-wife of his brother Herod Philip)]. According to Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2§119) the prison was in the palace-fortress of Machaerus, built by Herod the Great on the desolate heights of Moab near the east central shore of the Dead Sea. 

of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 

The way this is phrased it sounds like they are asking about the nature of Jesus’ messiahship, it may well have been an inquiry as to whether he was a divine messenger like Elijah; but the most likely interpretation is that John knew that Jesus was the Messiah (see Matthew 3:13-17). John sent his disciples to Jesus so that they could shed their mistaken notions about the kind of Messiah to expect, and come to recognize Jesus. 

4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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.

Recall our first reading from Isaiah 35:5-6. Although this is not a formal claim of messiahship, these are allusions to the phenomena in the Old Testament which were associated with the messianic era. Note that it is not a messiahship of judgment and wrath, nor the establishment of an empire over all the kingdoms of the earth, nor a war of extermination against the enemies of the elect people. It is a messiahship of the healing of ills and the conferring of blessing. 

6    And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

The messiahship of healing and blessing was not the messiahship which the people, including the disciples, expected. 

7    As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, 

Jesus gives testimony about John the Baptist; first in a set of six rhetorical questions, then in three positive assertions about him. 
“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.  9 Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

The common Jewish belief is that there has been no prophecy in Israel since the last of the Old Testament prophets, Malachi. The coming of a new prophet was eagerly awaited and Jesus agrees that John is a prophet, and much more!

10    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.’ 

See Malachi 3:1; Exodus 23:20. John is the long awaited precursor of the one who will bring in the new and final age. 

11    Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist;

This makes John the Baptist the last and greatest of the prophets, even greater than Moses.

yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

John lived and worked before the messianic reign. Therefore, even the least in the messianic reign, who will have the light of the gospel and the communication of the power of faith, will accomplish greater works than John. 

Meditation: "They shall obtain joy and gladness"
Why did Jesus praise John the Baptist as the greatest person born of a woman and then in the same breath say that those who enter God's kingdom will be greater than John (Matthew 11:11)?  John is the last and greatest of the prophets of the old covenant. He fulfilled the essential task of all the prophets - to be fingers pointing to Jesus Christ, God's Anointed Son and Messiah. John prepared the way for the Messiah and he pointed others to Jesus the Messiah at the River Jordan when he exclaimed, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) 
John saw from a distant what Jesus would accomplish through his death on the cross - our redemption from bondage to sin and death and our adoption as sons and daughters of God and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. When King Herod tried to silence John by throwing him into prison, John sent his disciples to Jesus after John had heard the reports about Jesus performing signs and wonders and speaking to people about the coming of God's kingdom. John wanted his disciples to hear and see firsthand what Jesus was doing to bring the kingdom of God to those who were receptive and ready to receive his message. 
Jesus the Messiah performs the signs of God's kingdom power
Jesus confirmed for John that the miracles and healings which he performed were in direct fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies announced by Isaiah some 700 years previously. Isaiah had prophesied that when the Messiah would come to save his people he would "open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, the lame would leap, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy" (Isaiah 35:5). Jesus' miracles are a demonstration of the power of God's kingdom at work in the midst of his people. When God acts to save his people he turns their sorrow and weeping into joy and singing, and their fear and weakness into strength and hope.
The greatness of John's life and witness of the Messiah
When Jesus had answered the disciples of John, he in turn asked them a question."Why did you go out in the wilderness to see John the Baptist?" "Did you go because you were hungry for the word of the Lord?" Jesus said that John was more than a spokesman for God. John was the faithful witness and friend of the bridegroom who pointed others to the coming of the Messiah in their midst. Jesus contrasted John with the image of a reed shaken by the wind. Unlike a reed which is weak and spineless and can be easily crushed or bruised, John stood as a pillar of strength and truth in the face of opposition and persecution. No demonic force could weaken or crush John in his unswerving trust in God and his word. 
Jesus offers us abundant life and joy to be his witnesses
Jesus knew that what the Father in heaven had sent him to accomplish for our sake would supersede all that the prophets had done and foreseen in the past. Jesus' atoning death on the cross cancels the debt of our sins and sets us free to live as citizens of his kingdom. He gives us pardon, healing, and abundant life through his Holy Spirit, and the promise of unending joy with him in his everlasting kingdom.
John the Baptist paid the ultimate sacrifice of his life for speaking God's word and preparing the way for Jesus the Lord and Savior of the world. The Lord Jesus offers us the same assurance of faith and the strength to stand against every force that would try to rob us of our conviction and courage to live and proclaim the good news (the Gospel) of God's kingdom. Do you know the joy, strength, and power which Jesus gives to every one who puts their trust in him and the power of the Holy Spirit? Ask the Lord Jesus to increase your faith and hope in his promises for you. 
"Lord Jesus, strengthen my trust in your word and my hope in the saving power of your kingdom. Free me from everything that would hold me back from pursuing your kingdom and your will for my life."
Daily Quote from the early church fathersJohn fulfills Elijah's prophetic ministry, by John Chrysostom, 547-407 A.D.
"Jesus knew the mind of John who sent them, for he knew, as God knows, our inner thoughts. There he was, actively healing the blind, lame, and many others. He healed not to teach John, who was already convinced, but those who had come to him doubting. Having healed them he said, 'Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.' And then he added pointedly, 'And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.' By saying this Jesus implied that he knew even his questioners' unuttered thoughts. For if he had said simply 'I am he' this would have fallen short of overcoming their unstated sense of being offended. And it would have given fuel to some Jews who were already saying to him, 'You bear record of yourself' (John 8:13). Hence he answered nothing directly concerning his identity but left them to learn of it from the miracles, freeing what he taught from suspicion and making it plainer. Then Jesus gently chided them for being silently offended in him. He made their case for them, leaving it to their own conscience alone to judge, calling no witness of his reprimand other than they themselves who knew what they had been thinking. For it was of their own inward offense that he was thinking when he said, 'Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.' In this way Christ drew them all the more closely to himself." (excerpt from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 36.2)


(Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10)

KEY VERSE: "This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'" (v 10).
TO KNOW: John the Baptist prophesied that the Messiah would come with fire and judgment (Mt 3:7-12). But he was astonished to discover that Jesus came with healing and mercy (11:29). From prison, John sent his disciples to ask whether Jesus was the "one to come" (v 3) or should they look for another Messiah. Jesus pointed to his ministry as having fulfilled messianic expectations (Is 35:5-6), which he announced at the beginning of his public ministry (Lk 4:18). Jesus added a new beatitude, a blessing for those whose faith did not falter because of him. Although Jesus praised John saying that there was none who surpassed this messenger of God, the prophet belonged to the old order that was passing away. Through baptism, the least one in God's kingdom was greater than John.
TO LOVE: Can I be a messenger of Jesus so that people will not look for another?
TO SERVE: Lord Jesus, thank you for the privilege of accepting me into your kingdom.
NOTE: The Third Sunday of Advent is called "Gaudete" (Rejoice) Sunday from the Entrance Antiphon: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice" [Phil 4:4]. Rose Colored Vestments are worn and a rose colored candle is lit on the Advent Wreath.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Sun 11th. 3rd Sunday of Advent. Isaiah 35:1-6, 10. Lord, come and save us—Ps 145(146):6-10. James 5:7-10. Matthew 11:2-11.


'Are you the one who is to come?'

John the Baptist, the prisoner of Herod Antipas, sent two of his disciples to question Jesus about his messianic credentials. This was, of course, the decisive issue for the early Christians, as it is for us today. Jesus does not offer John's messengers a theoretical response, but in quoting from the prophetic text of Isaiah, he points to his compassionate intervention in the lives of people most in need. It was a case of 'by their fruits you shall know them'. Our claim to be Jesus' followers stands or falls on whether we are Christlike in our conduct. The Imitation of Christ is the name of a spiritual classic. It should also be our ideal, enabling us to say in Paul's words to the Philippians: 'For me to live is Christ' (Phil 1:21).


Saint Damasus was born in Rome at the beginning of the fourth century. His father, a widower, had received Holy Orders there and served as parish priest in the church of St. Laurence.
Damasus was archdeacon of the Roman Church in 355 when the Pope, Saint Liberius, was banished to Berda. Damases followed him into exile, but afterwards returned to Rome. On the death of Saint Liberius in 366, our Saint was chosen to succeed him, at the age of sixty-two. A certain Ursinus, jealous of his election and desiring for himself that high office, had himself proclaimed pope by his followers, inciting a revolt against Damasus in Rome, in which 137 people died. The holy Pope did not choose to resort to armed defense, but the Emperor Valentinian, to defend him, drove the usurper from Rome for a time. Later he returned, and finding accomplices for his evil intentions, accused the holy Pontiff of adultery. Saint Damasus took only such action as was becoming to the common father of the faithful. He assembled a synod of forty-four bishops, in which he justified himself so well that the calumniators were excommunicated and banished.
Having freed the Church of this new schism, Saint Damasus turned his attention to the extirpation of Arianism in the West and of Apollinarianism in the East, and for this purpose convened several councils. He sent Saint Zenobius, later bishop of Florence, to Constantinople in 381 to console the faithful, cruelly persecuted by the Emperor Valens. He commanded Saint Jerome to prepare a correct Latin version of the Bible, since known as the Vulgate, and he ordered the Psalms to be sung accordingly. He rebuilt and adorned the Church of Saint Laurence, still called Saint Laurence in Damaso. He caused all the springs of the Vatican to be drained, which were inundating the tombs of the holy persons buried there, and he decorated the sepulchres of a great number of martyrs in the cemeteries, adorning them with epitaphs in verse. Before his death, he consecrated sixty-two bishops.
Saint Damasus is praised by Theodoret as head of the famous doctors of divine grace of the Latin church. The General Council of Chalcedon calls him the "honor and glory of Rome." Having reigned for eighteen years and two months, he died on December 10, 384, when he was nearly eighty years old. In the eighth century, his relics were definitively placed in the church of Saint Laurence in Damaso, except for his head, which was conserved in the Basilica of Saint Peter.
Source: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Principal Saints, by Rev. Alban Butler.


Lectio Divina: 
 Sunday, December 11, 2016
Jesus’ witness concerning John the Baptist
Matthew 11:2-11

1. Let us invoke the Holy Spirit
 Spirit of God,
who at the beginning of creation
hovered over the abyss of the universe
and transformed the great yawn of things
into a smile of beauty,
come down again on earth
and grant it the thrill of its beginnings.
This world that is growing old,
touch it with the wing of your glory,
Restore to us the primordial joy.
Pour yourself without measure on all our afflictions.
Hover once more over our old world in danger.
And, finally, the desert will once more be a garden
and in the garden the tree of justice will flower
and the fruit of justice will be peace.
Spirit of God, who by the banks of the Jordan
descended in your fullness on Jesus’ head
and proclaimed him Messiah,
overshadow this portion of the mystical Body
gathered before you.
Adorn it with a robe of grace.
Consecrate it with unction
and invite it to bring the good news to the poor,
to bandage the wounds of broken hearts,
to proclaim freedom to slaves,
release to prisoners
and announce the year of mercy of the Lord.
Free us from the fear of not coping.
May our eyes radiate superhuman transparency.
May our hearts emit courage blended with tenderness.
May our hands pour out the blessing of the Father
on all that we touch.
Grant that our bodies may be resplendent with joy.
Clothe us with nuptial robes.
And gird us with girdles of light.
Because, for us and for all, the Bridegroom will not delay in coming.
T. Bello

2. The Gospel text
2 Now John had heard in prison what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, 3 'Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?' 4 Jesus answered, 'Go back and tell John what you hear and see; 5 the blind see again, and the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin-diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor; 6 and blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause of falling.' 7 As the men were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John, 'What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? 8 Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Look, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. 9 Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: 10 he is the one of whom scripture says: Look, I am going to send my messenger in front of you to prepare your way before you. 11 'In truth I tell you, of all the children born to women, there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.

3. Let us pause and read again the Gospel text
- Let us whisper quietly the words of the Gospel and let them slowly pass from our tongue to our mind and from our mind to our heart.
Let us quietly savour some of these words…
- We are gathered around Jesus and we are listening to what the disciples are asking of him concerning John: this is a serious question from those who have the power to change history.
- Jesus’ answer takes on a staid tone, but it wounds our heart as with a spear: it is clear that the awaited Messiah is Himself!
- Let the questions, doubts, desires and hopes run freely around the Word of Jesus.  Let them confront and engage with it.
Gradually an answer will come, even though it may be partial: not in the arguments, but when looking squarely at “He who is to come” and who is speaking to you now. Do not weary of repeating his Word in a soft voice and of keeping it in your heart, above and within all the doubts and problems of your day.

4. Let us take a closer look at Matthew’s text

= Our passage comes at the beginning of a new section of the Gospel (11: 2–12, 50). This is a series of tales concerning Jesus’ activity after his discourse on the apostolate. There are not many miracles, but the Evangelist stresses the polemic between Jesus and his adversaries in growing intensity for the whole of the rest of the Gospel.
In all probability, the text reflects the early theological debates between the Christians and the disciples of John concerning the nature of Jesus’ mission.
= John in his prison…: It is a long time since Matthew has made reference to the Baptiser (the last mention is in 4: 12) and now he tells us he is in prison and it is only later that he will tell us the circumstances of his imprisonment (14: 3-12).
* John’s prison, as it was for all, is a place apart, a kind of “world apart” which makes him almost a stranger to normal life and twists the perception of news received from outside. Thus, the question of the Baptiser is not surprising even though he was the first to recognise Jesus as “more powerful” (3: 11) and as the eschatological judge whose “winnowing-fan is in his hand”  (3: 12), bowing before Him humbly and in fear (cfr 3: 11).
= [When he] had heard what Christ was doing…: the expression “Christ was doing”, used here to recall what Jesus was doing, anticipates the answer he will give to John’s question.
* John the Baptist, while in prison, hears news of Jesus: we too every day, while we are in our “prisons” of solitude and distance from God or of suffering, hear “something” that comes from various sources and we feel troubled.
It is often difficult to distinguish between the good news of the Gospel and so many other matters that take place in our daily lives!
And yet, what Jesus does are the things that “the Christ does”, even if we are not always aware of this, just as in the case of John.
= Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else? When John was baptising whole crowds in the Jordan, he had described a strong Messiah who would punish severely the sins of all: “The one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand, he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out” (Mt 3: 11-12). In that severity that cracked like a whip in view of conversion and, thus, of salvation, John had read the seal of the mercy of YHWH. Suffering in prison, made fragile by a sense of failure and powerlessness, victim of the injustice and arrogance against which he had fought all his life, it seemed to John that evil was winning and he is upset. Immersed irreversibly in that fog, he is no longer capable of seeing clearly the power of God in action in the works of Jesus.
* It is lawful to speculate: Jesus was revealing himself gradually as the Messiah, but he did so by breaking the canons of the Jewish ideal and the usual interpretations of Sacred Scripture: he was not “doing justice”, he was not separating the good from the bad like the sieve separates the good wheat from the chaff; he preached conversion energetically but pardoned sinners; he showed himself to be “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11, 29), open and available to all, a stranger to all vulgar ways of contesting the system. It is, therefore, possible to think that John was in crisis because Jesus did not correspond to the Messiah whom he expected and whom he had constantly preached; so, he sends a delegation to Jesus to ask him some questions and for them to report to him a word that might enlighten this mystery of contradictions: “Who are you, Jesus? What do you say of yourself? How can we believe in you when before arrogance and injustice you show yourself as a patient, merciful and non violent Messiah?”
Who of us has not tried to form a more precise idea of the One in whom we believe and his ways of acting, when life has made us meet so many contradictions and injustices, even in the Church? Who of us has not struggled to see and interpret correctly the signs of the active presence of the Lord in our own history? It is difficult to welcome a God who is “different” from our designs and so we must not accuse the Baptist, because we too are subject to the temptation of wanting God to have our feelings and tendencies and who might even be a little vindictive in carrying out “justice”. Often we would like to have a God made in our image and likeness, but “my thoughts are not your thoughts, your ways are not my ways…” (Is 55: 8).
= Jesus answered, Go back and tell John what you hear and see: Jesus does not answer quickly and directly, but shows clearly the facts that result from his actions that are changing history and realising the old prophecy concerning the Messiah. Thus, he does not give an answer “for immediate use”, but the disciples must go back to John and refer to him what they themselves have heard and seen, because the healings, resurrections and liberations are unequivocal signs of the messianic nature of Jesus of Nazareth.
Every day we must learn to proclaim the good news beginning from what we feel and see. Fraternal witness is indispensable to communicate the Gospel.
* Christ submits humbly to the questioning and answers showing the disciples of John a true and personal method of understanding and of proclaiming: "Go back and tell John what you hear and see". The fourth Evangelist recalls the same method in his first letter: “Something which has existed since the beginning that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life – this is our subject. That life was made invisible: we saw it and we are giving our testimony, telling you of the eternal life which was with the Father and has been made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us” (1Jn 1: 1-3). This was the missionary method used by the early Church: the method learnt from the incarnation of the Word.
A true and efficient proclamation must pass through a simple and modest communication of personal experience: words without fanfare of a life woven by faith.
= The blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor: In these words, a collection of various quotations from Isaiah (28: 18-19; 35: 5-6; 42: 18; 61: 1), we find the core of Jesus’ answer and of our passage. The Lord presents his own works not as judgement and power, but as divine blessing for those of the People in need.
It is significant that the prophetic passages quoted make no reference to leprosy and death that the Evangelist puts into Jesus’ mouth. This emphasises the newness that Jesus brings to his manner of fulfilling the prophecies concerning the Messiah awaited by Israel
The works of Jesus are great, but he is one of the “little ones” who are his chosen ones, he is one of “the poor of JHWH” who already sees the cross at the end of his journey as man. This is unbearable for anyone expecting a triumphant Messiah. Blessed are they who hear and see with a heart full of faith.
* Indirectly Jesus invited John himself to hear and see what he teaches and does. Thus the last of the prophets might recall and now recognise that what Jesus says and does corresponds to the great messianic prophecies so richly contained in the Old Testament.
This is the mechanism of the “religious memory” without which faith will never be enkindled and, especially, may never survive the blows of scandal that life brings with it: the works of God in the past are the signs of his fidelity to the promises and the pledge of his future works.
Committing ourselves to recall every day the “great things” that God worked for us and in us (cfr Lk 1: 49) does not mean falling into sterile reiteration, but gradually bringing the seed of the active grace of God to the very depths of our being, so that it may grow and bear fruit. The Eucharist too is a memorial: it is “the memorial of the Pasch of the Lord”, a living and actual memorial of the salvation offered to each one of us.
= Happy is the man who does not lose faith [is not scandalised]in me: The word “scandal” comes from the Greek: the “stumbling stone” prepared to strike a person by surprise. Notwithstanding the meaning that we usually attribute to this word, in the Bible “scandal” may be either negative or positive.
Jesus is one who “scandalises” his fellow citizens by his poor origins not well suited to a glorious Messiah; he scandalises the Pharisees with his cutting words, he scandalises the disciples of John with his way of doing things not according to foreseen plans and he scandalises his own disciples with his infamous death.
Jesus, however, does not praise those who scandalise the little ones or those who are an occasion of scandal (cfr Mt 5: 29) to the faith or morals thus leading others into wrong ways.
The kind of scandal we need is the one that comes from living the Gospel in a radical manner that shakes us from our habits of life and from our mind-set.
We too are called to “scandalise” the world with the scandal of the Gospel showing by our lives that we must not submit to uses and customs that are at variance with the Christian faith, by refusing compromises that could provoke injustices, by looking after the poor and the least.
= What did you go out into the wilderness to see?: Notwithstanding the weakness shown by the questions put by John, Jesus describes his precursor with enthusiasm as a prophet who by his burning words unites the living and incontestable signs of his privileged connection with God in whose name he speaks to the People. Rather, with this pressing series of six rhetorical questions and three positive statements, Jesus says that John is more than a prophet: he is the one of whom the ancient Scriptures of the fathers speak, the messenger who prepares the way of the Lord (Mt 3: 3) as the old prophets had said (Ml 3:1; Es 23: 20). Nevertheless, the Lord quickly explains the reasons for his affirmation: these may even be too evident to his listeners.
= Of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen: John is not only an eminent prophet and precursor of the Messiah (because it is now clear that Jesus considers himself as such), but he is also great as a man, greater than his contemporaries and those of past ages. This is an entirely personal kind of praise that Jesus addresses to Herod’s prisoner and not merely a hyperbole. With these words, Jesus anticipates the comparison between John the Baptist and Elijah, which he will make explicit in verse 14: “he, if you will believe me, is the Elijah who was to return”.
* The expression “of all the children born of women” has a typically Semitic flavour, but it also alludes to the mystery of Jesus’ origin: he too is “born of woman”, but only in what concerns the flesh, because his human-divine genesis goes well beyond his simple humanity.
Our birth as “children of God” in faith is also wrapped in mystery: “who were born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself” (Jn 1: 13). We are “born of woman” but we are not meant for this earth, rather for the Kingdom of heaven where we shall be judged according to our faith and the works of faith, fruits of the welcome we give to our baptismal grace.
= Yet the least …: this part of the sentence (perhaps an early gloss) seems to put a limit on the enthusiastic presentation of the Baptist. Although he is great among men, yet John is small in the Kingdom, because there everything is measured according to criteria quite different from those on earth: the measure of the new times that are coming and have begun with the human coming of the Son of God. Those who belong to this completely new generation are greater than any of those who lived in preceding times, even than John the Baptist.
* The contrast between “great” and “small” is created precisely to make it clear to all believers that to be great one has to become ever smaller. In his human “greatness”, John is presented by Jesus as the least in the Kingdom and thus even for John it is necessary for him to “become small” in the hands of God. It is the same requirement every day for each of us who are tempted to be like the “great” and “powerful”, at least in our desire!

5. Let us pray the Word and thank the Lord
God of our joy, giver of every salvation (Psalm 146)

Yahweh keeps faith for ever,
gives justice to the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry;
Yahweh sets prisoners free.
Yahweh gives sight to the blind,
lifts up those who are bowed down.
Yahweh protects the stranger,
he sustains the orphan and the widow.
Yahweh loves the upright,
but he frustrates the wicked.
Yahweh reigns for ever,
your God, Zion, from age to age.

6. From the Word to contemplation
Lord Jesus
who “are about to come”,
do not delay any more
and listen to the cry of the poor
who look to you for
salvation, justice and joy.
Grant us clear eyes and a pure heart
so that we may be able to discern
your active and fruitful presence
also in the events
of our “today”
that looks so grey
and empty of rays of hope!
Come, Lord Jesus!

"The Spirit and the bride say: 'Come!'.
And those who listen repeat: 'Come!'.
Let those who thirst, come;
those who wish may draw the water of life freely.
He who bears witness to these things says:
'Yes, I shall come soon!'.
Come, Lord Jesus.”
 (Ap 22: 17.20)