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Invited to conversion

Educated by the prophets, Israel had been waiting for the saviour for centuries. But when he came, even the more spiritually prepared and well-disposed struggled to recognise and to welcome him. The Baptist also remained indecisive.

In the first part of today’s gospel we see that John is imprisoned. Not getting news about exciting interventions from Jesus, the Baptist’s faith begins to waver. 

How did these perplexities come to him? The answer is quite simple. He has been expecting the liberator (Isaiah 61:1), the person in charge of restoring justice and truth in the world. He does not understand why Jesus did not decide to intervene to release him from prison.

He awaited a strict judge, a messiah who rails against the wicked. Here, instead, we have a surprise. Not only does he not condemn sinners, he even eats with them and takes pride in being their friend (Luke 7:34). 

He has words of salvation for those who have lost all hope and those avoided by all, like lepers. He is not discouraged in the face of human problems. He does not give up even in death.

To the messengers of John the Baptist, Jesus is presented as the Messiah, listing the signs taken from texts of Isaiah (Isaiah 35:5-6; 26:19; 61:1), the prophet of hope, who had predicted, “On that day no one would complain: I am sickly. (Isaiah 33:24).

The Baptist is invited to take note of the new realities. The new world has come up: those who have been walking in the dark and have lost the orientation of life, now is enlightened by the gospel. 

Whoever was crippled and could not move a step towards the Lord and towards their brothers and sisters now can walk quickly.

Whoever was deaf to the word of God, now listens and is guided by it. Whoever regarded themselves as miserable and hopeless has begun to listen to the good news: “There is salvation for you as well.” There is no fire here, no vengeance here.

The Messiah of God has nothing to do with the energetic and severe character that John had expected. His way of doing had scandalised the precursor and continues to shock us even today. 

There are, still, some who ask the Lord to intervene to punish the wicked. There are still some who interpret misfortunes as God’s punishment to those who have done evil. But can God be angry or feel pleasure in seeing his children (even if bad) suffer?

Jesus ends his answer with a beatitude, the tenth, found in the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed is he who takes no offence at me.” A sweet invitation to the Baptist to review his theological convictions.

A good God contradicts all the beliefs that John had. Like us, the Baptist also imagined a mighty God. Finding himself weak, he expected sensational interventions. However, the events continued to unfold as if the Messiah had not come.

The Baptist is the figure of a true believer. He flounders in many perplexities, asks questions, but does not deny the messiah because he does not match his criteria. He calls into question his own beliefs.

Jesus is not worried about who has trouble believing, who feels lost in front of the mystery and puzzles of existence, who says that he or she does not understand the thought and actions of God. 

He is worried about those who confuse one’s own beliefs with the truth of God, those who have ready answers to all questions, those who have always some dogma to impose, those who never allow themselves to be questioned: such a faith at times borders on fanaticism.

 

 

• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications
https://sundaycommentaries.wordpress.com