There is so much that has been left unsaid in this story! If you read between the lines, you will see just how pregnant the silences of the Gospel are in this event.
We can’t help but compare it with that very first encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist–as babies in their mothers’ womb. The proximity and the rejoicing so palpable in the Visitation are conspicuously missing here. Between these two men, now there is distance. And there is no rejoicing.
Let’s begin with the question that the imprisoned Baptist asked Jesus through his disciples:
“Are you he who is to come? Or shall we look for another?”
This question is a strange one if you remember that its source is the very same person who “leapt in his mother’s womb” upon recognition of the nearness of Jesus.
This question is so wrong if you recall that when Jesus had approached him to request for baptism, his initial response was to refuse because he knew that Jesus was the One!
So what’s going on here? If we use our imagination, we can very much guess where John’s question was coming from.
If you were John the Baptist languishing in jail, imprisoned unfairly, you would probably suspect that your death is impending. Now, as you hear of all the wondrous things Jesus was doing–the healings, the miracles, the crowds–wouldn’t you wonder why the Lord isn’t rescuing you? Isn’t it understandable–and human–to remind him that you need help?
And as though the question is not strange enough, Jesus’ answer is even stranger, even more cryptic. As he sometimes does, Jesus quotes from Scripture, specifically from Isaiah.
Jesus tells John’s disciples, “Tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
John will recognize Isaiah’s prophecy, but he will also know that the quotation makes a conspicuous and significant omission: It leaves out the part about “proclaiming liberty to captives.”
In other words, our Lord’s message is: “I am so sorry, John. I regret that I cannot come to your rescue.”
John certainly understood the message–and he quietly accepted it. He waited for the third and final time. And the kind of waiting that he underwent right before his death is so different from the first two: It is to wait with hope–even if there seems no reason to do so.
Could this be the kind of waiting that the Lord is inviting you to undergo this Advent? Perhaps you are facing problems in your life and experiencing darkness and turmoil in the process. If that is the case, indeed this is the kind of waiting that you are being called to.
The Advent Face of God for you is the God Who opts to join the fray. It is, after all, not God’s way to fix things or rescue people from afar with a wave of His mighty hand–even if we all prefer that for obvious reasons. His way–which is utterly inscrutable to us–is to join the chaos of our world and to walk with us, especially during the darkest times of our lives.
In such a case, the Advent grace to pray for is none other than faith in dark times: to continue to keep the faith in the Lord, that even and especially in the dark, He is near, He is with us, and He will make sure that we will be okay even if it totally doesn’t feel that way.
This time, the Advent invitation for us if that is what we are going through is “to let God be God.” We don’t understand His ways, but we can choose to trust Him even if we don’t understand–just as John the Baptist did in the final days of his life.
Give yourself some time here to let these thoughts sink in. Ask yourself these questions:
Can you decide–here and now–to “let God be God?” What could be getting in the way of that choice? If it is fear, what could you be afraid of?
It is said that faith is like a muscle–the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. What can you do to begin “exercising” your faith beginning starting today?
Spend some time in conversation with the Lord, speaking to Him about whatever surfaces in your heart.