In today’s gospel reading, we are reminded of the message and ministry of John the Baptist, who Jesus referred to as the greatest of the prophets.
In my advent reflection for this 3rd Sunday of Advent I spoke about expecting and expectation. Our expectation can either be good or bad. Which of these it is depends on our motive and focus. If our expectation is focussed on self-fulfilment and at its root has a selfish motive, then it is likely that is bad. If our expectation is God-focussed (which is why we pray may YOUR kingdom come, may YOUR will be done), then our motive is pure, and it is likely our expectation is good.
In Jesus’ time, the people were living under the oppressive regime of the Romans. Our expectations are often greater during times of adversity. The people voiced their expectation of a coming Messiah by asking John the Baptist very direct questions: “Who are you?”, “Are you Elijah?”, and again “Who are you?” That expectation continued to be voiced when they encountered Jesus, who was asked “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
It’s quite likely that we encounter people with expectations. At hospital recently I encountered a woman of great faith who was partially sighted. She responded warmly to my greeting and then asked if I was the doctor. I said no, I’m Mark, one of the chaplains here at BRI. She expected a doctor. She didn’t expect a priest. But as soon as she realised that I was a priest she visibly relaxed and after a long conversation I prayed for her. We can be sick of mind, sick of body, sick of spirit, or sick of heart. I believe in God’s grace that the encounter we had helped her know some measure of healing and peace in her mind, her spirit and her heart. The doctor and the rest of the medical team were working to address her being sick of body. Perhaps an unvoiced expectation was satisfied because she was clearly deeply moved by being prayed for in that way.
The people of God expected a warlike Messiah to free them from oppression. What the prophets had made clear, and made starkly apparent by John the Baptist, was what they needed was Jesus, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings who through his life, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation would reconcile them to God once and for all. Then God’s people would truly be free from the bondage they couldn’t even see – the bondage of sin and death.
Heavenly Father, help our expectations to be realistic and founded in You and You alone. Open our eyes that we might recognise the signs of your presence in our midst, calling and inviting us into a deeper relationship with you. Thank you for the witness and testimony of John the Baptist who came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. Help us to bear witness and give testimony to Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen