23 Dec 2007
“‘And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.’” (Matt. 11:6)
Fr. Randy Calvo
In the name …
Have you seen the television commercial for Southwest Airlines that shows two guys playing electronic baseball? The guy who is playing the batter in the game is the owner of one of these Sony Wii playstations. The game lets the player make physical movements that are then transferred exactly and immediately onto the game screen, in this case a beautiful and expensive flat screen television. He gets up off the couch and stands as if he’s in the batter’s box. Simultaneously, his character on the television screen gets up and imitates all of the warm-up swings of the guy in his living room. He tells his buddy to throw him a pitch. The other guy, supposedly so overtaken by the reality of the video game, doesn’t just mimic the motion of throwing a baseball towards homeplate. Instead, he hurls the control right at the television. It shatters the screen and then after a few agonizing moments the whole flat screen television falls off the wall and breaks apart. Looking at the ruined game and television, the announcer for Southwest Airlines asks, “Is it time for you to get away?”
I thought that was a pretty ingenious commercial. Those Wii games are extremely hot this Christmas season and it seems that’s because they’re so authentic-feeling. You get to feel like a big-league batter or pitcher, so much so that this one guy in the Southwest commercial actually lets go and throws the control right at the make-believe batter. He forgets for that one, horrible, embarrassing and expensive moment that he’s only playing an electronic game. Simulations are getting better and better, and you can find yourself asking, “Is this the real thing?”
Long before computer simulation games, and a whole lot more important than them, John the Baptist is wondering if this Jesus of Nazareth of whom he has heard so much is the real thing. Is this Jesus authentic, in other words? John is now in prison because his preaching has offended the pompous King Herod, but from his cell John the Baptist sends out his disciples to ask Jesus directly, “‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” (Matt. 11:4) Amazing stories are reaching John about the miracles and the presence of Jesus. Great and wonderful acts are credited to His person, acts that some are attributing to God. But John seems to have been expecting another kind of Messiah. If you remember from last Sunday’s Gospel, John foretold of the Messiah: “‘His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” (Matt. 3:12) John imagines a strict, vengeful and powerful Messiah, one who will rule rather preach. Jesus’ gospel message surprises John. And there in his prison cell he’s torn between belief and doubt. He wonders whether or not Jesus is authentic.
We’re never told if John the Baptist comes to believe in Jesus. We do know from the Acts of the Apostles that there were some missionary disciples of John the Baptist who were still operating and baptizing in his name after the Baptist’s death. They seemed to have maintained their belief in John and don’t appear to have moved on to faith in Jesus. Maybe this indicates that John never quite made up his mind about Jesus, or maybe that he just never had the chance to let his disciples know before Herod abruptly had him executed. You may know the story of Herodias’ daughter. She danced for the king who was so enchanted by her that he promised her anything she’d like. Her request was to have the head of the Baptist brought to her mother on a tray right then and there. Either way, maybe this is why we read in today’s Gospel: “‘Truly I tell 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.’” (Matt. 11:11)
The difference is an unwavering, confident faith in Jesus. The difference is if we believe Him to be authentic, to be the real thing. That’s why Jesus says to John’s disciples, Tell him what you see: The blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the word of God is proclaimed. And then to cap off this list of signs as if to say, “And most importantly of all,” Jesus says to John through his followers: “‘And blessed is the one who takes no offence at me.’” (Mt. 11: 6) What this implies is that the person who has faith in Jesus will recognize Him as authentic, as the Messiah, as the one sent from God. Belief in Jesus is the definitive character of faith.
John has come to symbolize our Advent preparations. He, as the Bible says repeatedly, is the one who prepares the way for the coming of Jesus, and Advent is when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Maybe part of his message of preparation is the soul-searching question of whether we really have an authentic faith in Jesus. John struggled with that question. He balanced his own expectations of the Messiah with the evidence of Jesus’ life. There was some confusion involved. It wasn’t easy for him to decide. There’s also the real possibility that he couldn’t decide. Faith is never science. There is no proof. And faith is not easy either. If our faith is authentic, then just like John said last week to those who came out to him in the desert: “‘Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.’” (Matt. 3:8) An authentic faith gives evidence of its existence. It changes people. It alters expectations. Anything less gives no evidence of an authentic faith.
In this season of preparation as we await the coming of the child, we need to ask if our faith is authentic. Does faith make a difference in our choices and behaviour? I went looking for a pretty popular Christmas present. I asked the guy at the entrance of the store if they had any. He laughed and said “No” with an “I can’t even believe you even asked” tone to his voice. Our faith should be as obvious. It should be as authentic. It has to be. And this is the purpose of Advent’s preparation, and may this be our Advent prayer this day in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)