Are You the One Who Is to Come?

Let’s put ourselves in the scene in today’s Gospel. John has been out in the desert proclaiming the coming of the God of Peace. He met with stiff opposition from the Roman dominators and Jewish leaders. Now he is in prison. For all he knows he may soon be put to death for his resistance to empire. He is talking to his disciples. One asks, “Is there any hope for us?” “Another says, “What about your cousin, Jesus?”
John replies, “I don’t know. I am not sure whether he is the One who is to come. Maybe we should look for another.”
“What are you saying, John? Do you wonder whether Jesus is the One who is to come?”
John answers, “I don’t know. He seems to want to take a different approach. This puzzles me. He was born in a cave—homeless. He and his parents had to flee the wrath of Herod. He was a refugee in Egypt. Then, he had this desert experience he talks about. He renounced dominative power and quick fixes. He told me that God called him Beloved when I baptized him in the Jordan. He talks about nonviolent resistance—love, forgiveness, justice and mercy. He just doesn’t seem to get it. He is dealing with a brood of vipers and urging people to practice just nonviolence. Does he think nonviolence will really work? Let’s try to find out. Why don’t you go and ask him?”
We know the rest of the story. Jesus assures the disciples of John that things will change. The great reversal of the God of Peace is in the works.
Jesus tells them, “The blind see. The lame are dancing. The deaf hear.”
Maybe this is the contrast between Jesus and his precursor cousin. The peppery John lashed out with judgment, fire and brimstone. He wants to bring about a quick fix. It will take violence to overthrow the empire and the powers and principalities. What the proponents of violence do not realize is that the peace wrought by the sword is not the peace of God. It will be temporary. God’s peace will be lasting.
Jesus rests in the assurance that the God of Peace, working in and through him, will bring about change. There is every reason to hope. Flowers will one day bloom in the parched desert. But Jesus realizes that he is dealing with the minds and hearts of people. He is dealing with people who look out for themselves and seek worldly comforts. This is the terrible paradox of divine love and human freedom. The God of Peace values us so much that she gives us the freedom to respond or not respond. Many times we fail to respond.
Jesus realizes that we cannot use violence and weapons to establish lasting justice and peace. It takes time and, as Paul cautions, patience. The root of patience is the Latin word “patior.” It means to suffer through. The peace of God will come through faithful suffering. There will be breakthroughs such as the current peace in Ireland. There will be setbacks like Iraq and Israel/Palestine. But, as Mary showed Juan Diego and the unbelieving bishop at Guadalupe, the rose will bloom in the dead of winter.
As peacemakers then, we respond to John’s disciples, “Yes, Jesus the one who has come and the one who is coming.” Whenever we see the hungry being fed and the thirsty being given drink, we catch a glimpse of the peace of God. When we see the homeless sheltered and the sick cared for, we realize that the peace of God is within our power. When we see the cancer victim cured and the lame now walking, we are aware that the peace of God has come. When we see people putting away their swords and coming to the bargaining table, we know that the peace of God is close at hand. When we see the poor valued and given meaningful work, we know that the peace of God is present. When we see governments spending more to alleviate suffering that they are spending for defense, we will know that the peace of God is at work. When we see fast food companies paying more for tomatoes so that the migrant workers can make a just living, we will know that the peace of God is close at hand. When we see dioceses, parishes and the faithful investing only in socially responsible companies, we will sense that the peace of God is becoming real.
But, it will take time. Our hearts are hard and our wills are stubborn. It is not easy to give up creature comforts and our lifestyles in order to usher in the peace of God. It takes time for the God of Peace and the Prince of Peace to soften our hearts and for our wills to lock in on the value of nonviolence.
Merton says that peace is eschatological. The reign of the God of Peace is within our power but it is also coming. The great reversal is not yet complete.
Come, Prince of Peace! Dwell among us!

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