Sunday, December 15, 2019
Last week John warned of wrath to come for oppressors. He looked for a fierce judge and a violent, long overdue settling of accounts.
Now in jail, John stumbles over Jesus. God was supposed to overturnthe world, not transform it from within. Jesus provokes judgment but judges no one. He heals. He forgives. He comforts and liberates.
John stumbles over the mystery of the Cross, God’s totally unexpected, transforming gift of Self in the midst of suffering, in the midst of this world as it is.
Exhausted and discouraged, has John wasted his life? How about youa nd me, trying to live lives of faith in this country, in this city? Jesus’ answer to us is at once beatitude and warning:
Happy are those who do not find me, the stone the builders will reject, a stumbling block.
The manger holds, but only the Cross reveals, the height, the length, the depth of God’s passionate, relentless love—which has all the time in the world and will never violate our freedom.
There is no answer in the Cross, only an invitation—follow me; join your life to mine. The cross of Jesus is finally our source of joy.
Joy arises when you live through painful situations, face challenges and come to know that your sins, sufferings, and failures relate you to others and to God.
Joy comes when you have been useful, a part of God’s hope for and action in the world. Often the least powerful are the most useful. I have heard the parents of a disabled child say, “She has done so much for us.”
That’s why the least in the kingdom are greater than John. We enter the kingdom of heaven; we begin to live the beatitudes, to be blessed when we begin to embrace the Cross. Dying is part of really living. Dag Hammarskjöld:
Your body must become familiar with its death—in all its possible forms and degrees—as a self-evident, imminent, and emotionally neutral step on the way towards the goal you have found worthy of your life.
Our joyful waiting for the Lord is based on the compassion of God revealed in the earthly ministry of Jesus and in the lives of all who struggle to complete his work on earth.
Some of them you know, some are in this room, still moving toward the goal they have found worthy of their lives.
The joy of this day comes just a few verses beyond today’s passage. Did John hear them before the axe’s gleam? We do not know. We do know the affection and respect Jesus had for him.
We know how Jesus embraces those who tryto follow and who are weighed down:
Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; I will give you rest. Bend your backs to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, my load is light.
Come Lord Jesus, come to the manger, come bearing your cross—let us live lives worthy of the goal. Let us be born into your kingdom.
Markings. trans. Leif Sjoberg and W.H. Auden. NY: Balantine Books, 1983.