The Gospel for the third Sunday of Advent.
Matthew 11:2-11New International Version (NIV)
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”4 Jesus replied,“Go back and report to John what you hear and see:5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” 7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’[b]11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
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According to Matthew, John witnessed the Spirit of God come down upon Jesus during his baptism. He even heard the voice of heaven declare “this is my son, the Beloved, the chosen One.” John is someone whose faith was further strengthened by witnessing a miraculous and holy event. He is a witness to God’s power and glory. He personally saw the Spirit of God and heard heaven itself spoke. There is almost no reason for him to doubt that Jesus indeed is the messiah.
Thus it is almost inconceivable that John would doubt Jesus later on. Yet, Matthew is telling us a different story. Here we see John clearly doubting Jesus to the point that he ordered his disciples to ask the Messiah himself, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Why is this so? Because no one is exempt from losing the light and being engulfed with darkness under pressure, not even John the Baptist.
According to Fr. Ben Moraleda, CSSR what happened to John is what spiritual writers call the “dark night of the soul.” The darkness represents the fact that the destination, God, is unknowable and the path is unknowable.
I think the dark night o the soul is a period akin when the light is lost, when one is crossing or wandering on the desert. This period is when one is down and have lost hope. A period of trial and testing when one felt abandoned by God.
Note that this moment of weakness in John occurred while he, the prophet of fire and brimstone, was suffering in prison. For him, it appears that he was deserted by God and thus he was quick to despair. He became impatient because his expectation of the messiah had not come to fruition.
However, despite his apparent loss of faith as portrayed in this scene by Matthew, there is no doubt that John held on to his faith in God till the end otherwise he won’t be introduced by in the gospel as the fulfillment of the prophecy from the Book of Isaiah and acknowledged by Jesus as “more than a prophet.”
Jesus is sure of John’s faith, he has no doubt about it yet , after praising him, he chose to castigate John for his arrogance. Jesus has decided to put John into his proper place despite his more than being a prophet for it is true that the “least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” Jesus said of John.
Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the fact that the gospel’s main message in this particular instance is not John loss of Faith but the trust of Jesus had on him…on those who are weak like us. It is about God’s acceptance and understanding of our weakness and humanity. Clearly, there will be moments of weakness in all of us. No one is exempt from the dark night of the soul. If it could happen to John, a prophet and an eyewitness to God’s glory, it could happen to us ordinary mortals.
We should not lose hope because we are weak. Weakness defines our humanity. It is our weakness that makes us human. Furthermore, we should realize that by God’s grace, our greatest strength lies in our weakness for it is what propels us to move and make positive changes in our lives. Our weakness makes us bend along with the travails that afflict us. In bending, we don’t break. It is our weakness, not our strength, that prevents us from going over.
Haven’t you noticed? It is during our moments of weakness that we are guided by God, that we are in good company…that we are actually with God. If we only care to stop, look and listen, we will find God beside us along the way as we ultimately discover our righteous path.
God understands that we will suffer the dark night of the soul thus we are always called to hope and seek the light, even in that moment of darkness. We have to strengthen our Faith through Jesus, whose ministry should serve as a beacon as we cross the desert of our lives.
As a people, we are currently in the desert where inhumanity prevails and all norms of decency are thrown out of the window. But we should not lose hope and let despair take hold of our lives. We should seek out the light so the dark night of our souls would be forever dispersed. Let us not be lured into complacency by false prophets offering false hopes. Have Faith. Stop, Look and Listen. Be strong in the knowledge that the light shines brightest in the dark.