As some of you already know, I recently graduated from basic officer training. For three and a half months, I was in Newport, RI for Naval Officer Development School, and Professional Naval Chaplaincy Basic Leadership Course. For those who think they know me well, joining the navy was way out of my league. During my training, I sent pictures and short videos of some of our training evolution to friends and family. In response to some videos I sent to the WhatsApp group of the San Diego African Catholic Community Choir, one of the choristers commented, “These people didn’t explain this well to us. I thought they were just going to have you say Mass, hear confessions, and give last rites. All these pushups and other Physical Training events are getting out of hand.” In response, I sent a laughing emoji and added, “I also thought they will just issue me their fine uniforms and let people just salute me. I didn’t know I had to work hard for it.” It sounds funny, but during the training, there were days I said to myself, “Really? Emmanuel, how did you get here? Is this the Navy you wanted to join, or should we wait for another one?”
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. One prominent figure we encounter during Advent is John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. In today’s gospel passage, he sends some of his disciples to go ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Remember that in John 1, John the Baptist was the one who confidently introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” For this reason, it is surprising that the same John the Baptist is questioning the identity of Jesus. Several scholars have tried to explain what is going on here. One group suggests that the question did not originate from John. According to this group of scholars, the question originally came from the disciples of John. They heard the great things John said about Jesus before he came. For example, last Sunday (Matthew 3: 1-12) they heard how the Messiah would gather the good people (wheat) in his barn, while the bad people (chaff) will burn in an unquenchable fire. But when Jesus arrived, instead of condemning sinners, he befriended them, he ate and drank with them. He even publicly declared that he came to save them. The disciples of John then began to question the truth of what John had told them about the Messiah. It was in response that John sent them to go ask Jesus directly.
For the second group of scholars, the question originated from John the Baptist. For them, the question was an expression of doubt from John himself. John came to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was very convinced of his mission as the forerunner of the Messiah. But many things seemed not to add up. John lived a very austere life, not eating and not drinking, but the Messiah came eating and drinking, even with sinners. John preached the reward for the righteous and the imminent damnation of the unjust, but now John is in prison, while Jesus is out dinning with sinners. As a human being, it is understandable for John to do a reality check at this point, and to ask Jesus, “Are you really the One I have been working/waiting for, or should we wait for another?”
Let us now turn our attention from John the Baptist to ourselves: Are we asking Jesus the same question? Is Jesus meeting your expectations in life? What were your hopes before you became a Christian? What were you expecting to gain from your marriage? Have you found the fulfillment you were looking forward to in the religious life and in the priesthood? Are you at a point where you are now asking yourself, “Really, is that all…?
Saint James beckons on us in the second reading to be patient; to learn from the farmer’s patience, and trust the process. Whatever we are going through now may not make any sense to us at this moment, but God is at work in each one of us. It is ok to raise questions, but we must be attentive to the answers that come from God. John raised his question, waited for his answer, and he did not give up on his mission. I had my doubts during my basic training. There were days and evolution that seemed meaningless, but thanks be to God, upon the completion of the training, I look back, and everything now adds up, everything now makes sense. Friends, I have no idea of what you are waiting for in your life; I do not know the doubts you are raising about your family, your education, your job, your health, your relationships, etc. One thing I am sure of is, if God permits it, it is because he has a reason, and it will all make sense in the end. In all your doubts and struggles, may God grant you the grace to never give up, until the will of God for you is actualized, through Christ our Lord. Amen.