Advent 03, Year A
- Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours (Lk. 6:20)
Was it for his followers’ sake or for his own sake that John the Baptist had Jesus answer the question, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Some commentaries of years ago pointed out that John himself was firm in his belief in Jesus’ being the Messiah, yet had to raise the question so that the wavering among his followers could have their doubts resolved. Part of the thinking behind such commentaries, I suppose, was that John’s stature as a prophet must preclude any kind of doubt on his part. A doubting prophet, it was readily assumed, would be less than a prophet.
But then, even Moses and Elijah doubted to the point of near despair. The former, for instance, complained to the Lord at one point, saying—in Num. 11:14-15: “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.” The latter, for his part, prayed—in 1 Kgs. 19:4: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
Yet Moses’ doubt has not at all been an obstacle to his being taken to be representative of the law, anymore than Elijah’s doubt has provided motive not to consider him to be representative of the prophets. The doubts on the part of these two pillars of the Jewish faith added to their greatness, I would even dare say, for these doubts were at least an implicit recognition that it was not about them but rather about God, that it was not about their doubts but rather about the certainty provided by the Almighty.
That John the Baptist himself would have doubts should not come, then, as a surprise. Considering especially that doubt is the way of all human beings, I should consider it to be an opportunity to be open to the absolute Truth. Doubting, more than being certain, makes for being least in the kingdom of heaven, that is to say, for deferring all credit to God and not to ourselves —and consequently for attaining greatness in the same kingdom—in a similar sense that poverty, more than wealth, makes for proper understanding of Jesus’ message and works.
Jesus’ message and works are, of course, for the least and poor who are not unlike those whom the prophet Isaiah prophesied would make up the new exodus, namely, those with feeble hands, weak knees and frightened hearts, and those too who are blind, deaf, lame and mute. Jesus was not a warrior messiah, leading an army of able-bodied and valiant soldiers. And so, any follower of Jesus has better wonder the way the late Madeleine L’Engle did in a poem that in part reads (cf. chapter 6, “The Noes of God,” The Irrational Season © by Crosswicks, Ltd., 1977):
- How very odd it seems, dear Lord,
- That when I go to seek your Word
- In varied towns at home, abroad,
- I’m in the company of the absurd.
- The others who come, as I do,
- Starving for need of sacrament,
- Who sit beside me in the pew,
- Are both in mind and body bent.
- I kneel beside the old, unfit,
- The young, the lonely stumbling few,
- And I myself, with little wit,
- Hunger and thirst, my God, for you.
- I share communion with the halt,
- The lame, the blind, oppressed, depressed.
- We have, it seems, a common fault
- In coming to you to be blessed.
To be blessed by God, yes, through, with and in the one who so doubted in agony that “his sweat became like drops of blood” and who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because of the Crucified, it matters little, I think, that I am frail or that I misunderstand and doubt, just so long as, like John the Baptist who was greater than a prophet despite his misunderstanding and doubt, I ultimately point to him who, dying destroyed our death, and who personified that crucifixion is exaltation, powerlessness means power, and the fall of the grain of wheat into the ground and its subsequent death spell abundant harvest for those who are patient.