For my first two years here in SSJE, I was the only new man, the sole postulant and then novice with professed brothers. Those were very good and relatively easy first years for me. I enjoyed using my gifts and learning our ways. After two years, our prayers for new men were answered as Jim and John arrived and several more since.
I had not wanted to be the only new man. There was a clear call to come when I did. Before Jim and John arrived, I was fairly comfortable with my experience and perspective of SSJE. New men challenged that. I felt confused, lost—yet with time, more alive—as their presence and relationship further revealed my limitations. Their perspectives broadened my understanding of the community and more importantly challenged me to see and honestly share more of myself.
It took me a while, amid the confusion and surprise, to realize the gift I was being given, to see Jesus. These new companions were bringing me to life, helping me see and teaching me to walk. Jesus was coming and healing me through my brothers. Jesus continues to come in this way, still often initially confusing and surprising me.
In today’s Gospel text we hear John the Baptist confused. John sends his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John has good reason to be confused. Jesus’ actions don’t seem to fit John’s radical prophetic voice, John’s call to repent. Turn around. The kingdom of heaven is coming. God is changing the big picture, upending social structure, bringing long-awaited justice and freedom.
In contrast, Jesus calls a few simple fishermen as followers and invites them to catch people not burn the world with fire. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says his follower will be persecuted and teaches not about a radical revolution to overthrow the world but rather instructs on obedience, patience, purity and gentleness.[i]
John is confused. Are you really the long-awaited Messiah? Rome is still in charge and pressing down on us. I’m in prison. Where is the vengeance, the movement for rebellion, the big upset? I thought you’d be different. You are not doing what I expected.
Jesus replies: Listen. Look. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers and cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
John and everyone listening to Jesus know this list. It is part of our morning text from Isaiah: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer.” Jesus quotes Isaiah to say: Yes, I am the One.
“And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Blessed are you, John, if you don’t take offense at me, if you stick with me even though I’m different, even though I’m not acting as you expect.[ii] Stick with me though I confuse and surprise you. It is reassuring that even John the Baptist, the greatest prophet, was confused by Jesus. That Jesus surprised even him.
This season of Advent invites us to look and listen for Jesus. Look and listen for the unexpected. It’s ok and normal to be confused. It’s good to let ourselves be surprised. Let me suggest a couple ways to look for Jesus.
First, review, remember, reflect on how God has already come. Review previous prayer requests. What have you been praying for? What were you longing for last week or last month or last year? What’s happened? How has God responded?
It’s easy to forget what we’ve received. We just move on to the next thing, or don’t notice the gift at all. Sometime we don’t recognize God’s action because what we received didn’t come or look like what we imagined when we asked. It may not have be the neat, tidy closure wanted, the problem solved, the wound healed without a scar. God’s response may include or prompt new challenges, new requests. It may come from the least likely person or place. How has Jesus come? Stop. Look back. Listen. Then give thanks.
Second, where are you taking a risk amid uncertainty and emotional exposure? Where are you invited to be vulnerable? Where are you challenged to ask for help, to be quietly present with pain, yours or another’s? How are you receiving love?
Perhaps it’s in long-established relationships or in new ones. Perhaps new companions are enlarging your perspective, inviting acknowledging your limitations, and making you more fully alive. Perhaps you are finding someone with whom you risk sharing part of your story honestly. How is Jesus coming to you?
God often breaks through where we are weak and in need. God comes to us as a vulnerable human baby to an unlikely couple in an obscure place. And in doing so turns the world upside down. Jesus says: Stick with me even if I am different, confusing, or surprising. I have come, and I am coming to you today with love! Look for me. Listen. I am coming in an unexpected way.
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The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.