Advent 02, Year A
- The kingdom of God is at hand (Mt. 3:2)
The account of St. John the Baptist calling for repentance because of the nearness of the kingdom of God must have comforted the persecuted hearers or readers of the Gospel of Matthew, assuring them that their own vindication as well as the condemnation of their persecutors were about to take place. But the account must have also conveyed an uncomfortable message, serving a warning to the members of the Matthean communion that they themselves, if they didn’t watch out, could become like those St. John the Baptist had railed against, people so morally depraved they were called by him “brood of vipers.” Apparently in those days, offspring of vipers were thought to chew their way out of their mothers’ wombs, killing their mothers in the process. “Brood of vipers” came across, therefore, in those days to be more insulting than just plain “vipers” .
I am not sure I will find comforting today the announcement of an imminent judgment that spells vindication for the righteous and the condemnation for the wicked. I cling to dear earthly life, even though misfortune, hardship, sickness, death, poverty, war, injustice, oppression, folly, misunderstanding, ill-advice, cowardice, ignorance, fearless irreverence, violence, infidelity, absence of goodwill-evoking leadership make clear that it very much falls short of, and is in sharp contrast with, the ideal life especially as envisioned by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading. I like it here, notwithstanding that I glibly say that here we have no lasting city and we seek the one that is to come (cf. Heb. 13:14). I guess I am much too settled-down here, which only goes to show that the uncomfortable message is what I need to hear today first and foremost, I am afraid.
I am afraid I have too much become part of the mainstream. So used to presuming that God speaks to us today mainly and mostly through official church magisterium, I find it nearly impossible to look for, much less find, any message from God in someone who is not “in” and is preaching out there in the desert. I have just about forgotten that the desert, as pointed out in the above-cited web site, is the appropriate place for poor prophets and messiahs, that it is there that prophets predict a new exodus of the poor, that to the desert are forced to flee prophets who are persecuted by a hostile society and unjust rulers, and that the prophets’ exclusion from the mainstream puts into question mainstream values. John the Baptist’s lifestyle, for example, is a protest against the status quo. Adds the above-mentioned commentary:
- A prophet with a message and values like John’s might not feel very welcome in many contemporary
- Western churches either. (Imagine, for example, a prophet overturning our Communion table, demanding
- how we can claim to partake of Christ’s body while attending a racially segregated church or ignoring
- the needs of the poor. In most churches we would throw him out on his ear.)
I have too much become part of the mainstream in my insatiable craving to acquire, possess, consume and, in the process, to make waste, often mistaking wants for needs. The values fostered by the affluent society have nearly removed from me the memory of John the Baptist’s lifestyle, content with the bare essentials, evoking simplicity, proclaiming the preeminence of the kingdom over possessions, comfort or status, and suggesting that the needs of others must come before my wants and luxuries.
I have too much become part of the mainstream and have learned conveniently to look the other way when confronted with injustice and error. On the one hand, I have gone along with those who think the kingdom of God has nothing to do with the world in which we human beings live. Instead of repudiating it as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I have subscribed rather to the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, described in the following terms by James Woelfel (as cited in an October 2006 essay, “Faith in Politics,” by the new Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd :
- According to this doctrine, the proper concern of the gospel is the inner person, the sphere where
- the Kingdom of God reigns; the Kingdom of the State, on the other hand, lies in the outer sphere,
- the realm of law, and is not subject to the gospel’s message. German Christians used this argument
- to justify devotion to race and fatherland as ‘orders of creation’ to be obeyed until the final consummation.
On the other hand, I have also joined those who compromise the transcendent character of the kingdom of God by facilely turning God into a partisan, when as pointed out in God’s Politics by Reverend Jim Wallis (as cited in the aforementioned essay):
- God is not partisan: God is not a Republican or a Democrat. When either party tries to politicize God,
- or co-opt religious communities for their political agendas, they make a terrible mistake. The best
- contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable nor loyally partisan.
- Both parties, and the nation, must let the prophetic voice of religion be heard. Faith must be free
- to challenge both right and left from a consistent moral ground.
Given that it is the uncomfortable message that I need to hear, it goes without saying that I must repent. For one thing, I must be sufficiently converted to be able to see in the poor the Poor who suffered outside the city gate (Heb. 13:12). I must repent and cannot presume and say to myself that I have Abraham as my father because of my faith in Christ. God, after all, can raise up children to Abraham from mere stones. Unless it comes with righteousness, my being chosen—my being part of “a chosen race, a royal nation” (1 Pt. 2:9; cf. Rev. 5:10)—is of no value and will only bring me severe judgment that will make me “answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).
St. Paul says in the second reading, “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” I must be duly instructed by the warning contained in the account of St. John the Baptist calling for repentance because of nearness of the kingdom of God.