First reading Isaiah 35:1-6,10
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 145(146):6-10
Second reading James 5:7-10
Gospel Matthew 11:2-11
We’ve been hearing quite a bit about St John the Baptist lately, and last week I spoke about the significance of St John’s preaching in the desert. The desert is the opposite to the Garden and is symbolic of the loss of the paradise in which man and woman originally dwelt in harmony with God. Well, today, the first reading spells out explicitly the Prophet’s proclamation of the restoration of the Garden: “Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy…” As the last of the Old Testament prophets, it’s this new era of restoration that St John’s preaching in the desert announced when he said, “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”
But there’s more to Isaiah’s prophecy than the restoration of the Garden: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy; for those the Lord has ransomed shall return…” In other words, the restoration of the Garden – the place of intimacy with God – will be accompanied by a renovation of the human being itself, freed as it shall be from the corruption caused by sin. Now, if we take a look at our Gospel reading today, what do we hear? In answer to John’s question as to whether Jesus was the “one who is to come”, the Lord says, “go back and tell John what you see; 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; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me…” Without directly answering John’s disciples, Jesus simply points to the evidence, the fruits of his presence. And what does the evidence tell us? The evidence bears witness to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, and in abundance. It goes even further than what was foretold, it includes lepers, the poor and even the dead, which were not mentioned by Isaiah. God surpasses all expectations!
But, yet again, there’s more to it which we easily miss if we are not listening: St John says to him, “are you the one who is to come?” What’s this about “the one”? Is it the Messiah he’s referring to, perhaps? No, Isaiah’s prophecy does not mention the Messiah, but someone even greater! Were you listening? Isaiah said, “look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.” God himself is “the one” who is to come! When God is present, the wastelands become a garden again, when God is present, the human being is restored again. Where God dwells, dear friends, harmony returns! And the testimony of the Gospel today reveals that Jesus is that “One”! The modern world wants to fix the earth, it wants to fix the disintegrating human mind and body, it wants to fix the scourge of war, but it wants this without God! Despite the illusion that we modern people are so enlightened, our mentality is no different today from that of Adam and Eve yesterday. You see, they disobediently took the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the thing that promised to make them like unto God. They tried to take what was God’s so as to take the place of God, which is exactly what modern man is trying to do. But that didn’t work out so well the first time.
Dear brothers and sisters, we must always remember, the universe and all within it, belongs to God. It’s him alone, then, who can restore us. So what must we do? First, we ought to heed what the Gospel today reveals, that it is in the person of Jesus that God comes to us. And where Jesus truly dwells, the prophesied restoration begins to unfold, and harmony returns. If we want to fix our world, and if we want to fix the human heart, we’ve gotta invite Jesus in. We’ve gotta invite Jesus into every aspect of our lives, not just church on Sundays! All of our lives– the good times, the bad times, and the humdrum. And this is the thing, Jesus didn’t only leave us an example, as if he were just some great role model. Jesus founded a Church, and he founded her Sacraments. Why? Precisely so that he could live in us. This is what the Sacraments do! Through Baptism he pours the Holy Spirit into our souls, dispelling original sin and recreating us. Through Confirmation he pours his gifts into us to help us live the Christian life faithfully. Through Confession he returns again and again to our souls after we have driven him out by our post-baptismal sins. And through the Eucharist, Jesus himself makes his home in us. If you think Mass is just a community gathering, I wouldn’t bother. In the Eucharist we come into contact with God in his very substance. Those who receive the Eucharist with faith and in a state of grace, experience the indwelling of Jesus in a most intimate way. They become, in a sense, dwelling places of God most High. And remember, where God dwells, the promised restoration begins to take place.
Rejoice, then, brothers and sisters! As the Introit of today’s Mass proclaims, and as our peculiar liturgical colour suggests, and as the Prophet himself exclaims, this transforming dwelling of Jesus is cause for great joy! Gaudete – Rejoice, we are told! Rejoice, for “your God is coming… he is coming to save you.” Let us meet him now with faith and with joyful expectation.