Third Sunday of Advent (Year C) Gaudete - Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel
“Gaudete” Sunday (Gaudete = Rejoice!) is the third Sunday of Advent, so called because this day expresses the joy of anticipation at the approach of the Christmas celebration; we are invited to rejoice because the Lord’s coming is near. It is in this joyful atmosphere, that we continue to contemplate the figure of the Forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, as we prepare ourselves to welcome the Christ who comes.
As underlined in the previous commentary, the Evangelist Luke presents to the readers the particular figure of the Baptist as the one sent; he is “proclaimer/preacher of the Word” of God. Indeed, all his activities are summed up in a sentence that we heard at the end of today’s Gospel: “Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people,” that is to say, he announced/ proclaimed the “gospel”. Jesus, then is the “mightier” one, who comes to proclaim the Good News in its fullness to the people, and His disciples are to do the same, following the exhortation of their Master and Evangelizer par excellence.
The short conversation between the Baptist and the crowds, which Saint Luke offers us almost as something emblematic of the “evangelical” teaching of the Forerunner of Christ, highlights an important aspect (not to be overlooked) in the proclamation of the Gospel by the “missionaries” of God. It is about justice, understood from an existential-spiritual point of view and not so much from a juridical perspective. As such, justice means the right thing to do in life before God, in order to welcome the One who comes. There is need to examine it in detail, listening to the voice of the Spirit who speaks today to the Church and to us, her children.
1. John’s message is presented through three answers and a final statement. In his three answers, John gives a triple instruction to the single question that is asked three times by different groups: “What should we do?” (vv.10,12,14) It should be noted that this question will again resonate in the mouth of the people in the face of the preaching of Christ (Lk 10:25; 18:18) and the apostles (Acts 2:37; 16:30). This emphasizes the common character of the Baptist’s mission and of the Christian one, which must necessarily provoke a serious revision of life. Each person is compelled to ask themselves they are to ‘do’ as a response to the divine message heard. However, John constructed the discourse within the context of the traditional and perceived threat of divine punishment: final judgment - as the reason for conversion - in the style of the prophets of Israel. The Christian way (of Christ and his disciples), on the other hand, highlights the positive aspect of God’s fidelity in fulfilling the promise of salvation to the world. However, both serve to exhort listeners to rethink their life before God.
It is therefore necessary to expand on the three instructions of John in today’s Gospel to review our behavior. The first recommendation is addressed to crowds, that is to say, to all listeners: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” (v.11) In preparation for the encounter with the Lord who comes, each person is called to respond to the needs of the other, to share with him/her the goods received from God. The exhortation is simple, concrete. It must be accepted in its simplicity, without falling into the elaboration of some general ethical principle on social sharing or on the virtue of generosity. Simply put: “go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37), to use the very simple and concrete words of Jesus! The Baptist’s recommendation echoes the fundamental message of the prophets, in particular the beautiful one of Is 58:7-9 on the attitude of fasting and penance pleasing to God, which is worth rereading in full: “[The fasting that the Lord called for] is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, / bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; / clothing the naked when you see them, / and not turning your back on your own flesh?” (Is 58:7). It should be emphasized here, as in the text of the Baptist, that no one is expected to be too heroic in this self-sacrifice for the neighbor; a simple act of mercy is enough, if you have! And this would already be enough for an evangelical preparation of the soul for the Lord who comes, as the prophet Isaiah proclaims following the passage just quoted: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, / and your wound shall quickly be healed; / your vindication shall go before you, / and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. / Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here I am!’” (Is 58:8-9). One could continue saying: He will come to save you and you will be ready to welcome the salvation given to you!
In this regard, we must never forget the rhetorical question of St. John the apostle to his community: “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?” (1Jn 3:17). It is an important text, also mentioned by Pope Francis, to urge everyone to listen to the cry of the poor in need (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 187). This is especially true for pastoral and missionary workers, so as not to fall into a practical relativism “more dangerous than doctrinal relativism. It has to do with the deepest and inmost decisions that shape their way of life. This practical relativism consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist” (Evangelii Gaudium 80). We must never forget that Jesus himself in one of his parable identifies with the hungry and the naked, and when He comes again to judge the living and the dead, will settle accounts with all of us based on how we have lived. May all of us receive His blessing on that day: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:34-36).
2. To return to todays’ Gospel, the second recommendation of the Baptist is even more concrete, and is addressed to the tax collectors, those who collected taxes from fellow Jews for the Roman government. Tax collectors were exposed to the temptation to “exaggerate” (overcharge) for their own interest. They were considered by the people of the time as “bad / corrupt” by nature, like sinners, as we can see from the gospels (cf. Lk 5:30; 7:34; 15:1; 18:13). The Baptist exhorts them to be honest: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed” (v.13). It could not be any more simple than that! However, it is sometimes very difficult for someone in a company or business, where everyone else does the opposite! And sometimes you can hardly do just a few small initial steps not knowing what will be next (continue in the new life or return to “normal”). Nevertheless, this first step is desirable and necessary to inaugurate a new stage in life with the Lord. For those who are thinking about this, here is the sincere appreciation-encouragement of Pope Francis: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties” (Evangelii Gaudium 44).
This ‘small step’ forward is also advisable for the third group, that of the soldiers, who question the Baptist. In fact, they are given a specific imperative: “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (v.14b). The first part spontaneously brings to mind the so-called Golden Rule, formulated in Tobias’s exhortation to his son: “Do to no one what you yourself hate” (Tb 4:15). This is the principle, present in other religious cultural traditions, that is confirmed by Jesus in a positive form - as the quintessence of the Law and the Prophets: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12). The second part of the imperative, on the other hand, suggests a certain similarity between the usual situation of the soldiers and that of the tax collectors, in which everyone always tries to “supplement” the salary, the wages, through extra “services” for the people! (This affinity of the two groups is also highlighted by the beginning of the soldiers’ question: “And we, [what shall we do?]” with an emphatic “and” that is to say “even us”). Therefore, these recommendations are not so easy to follow – a degree of effort, sometimes enormous, is required in an environment where “everyone does it,” with extortion, violence, corruption. However, it takes a small step forward to prepare life for the final encounter with the One who comes. And the honest life that is recommended to soldiers certainly applies to many today as well.
3. The closing statement of the Baptist, reveals once again the identity of the Lord Jesus who is described with three characteristics in relation to John: “one mightier,” “the baptizer with Holy Spirit and fire,” and “the agent of the final harvest.” The last image evokes a certain fear in the face of that terrible “day” of the Lord, especially with that “unquenchable fire” for “the chaff!” The language, however, is always that of the apocalyptic-prophetic tradition of Judaism, at times used by Jesus himself, for eternal damnation (cf., e.g., Mc 9:43). This insistence is, however, very different from that of St. Paul in the second reading, who repeatedly recommends us to “rejoice”, because “the Lord is near!” This emphasis on joy springs from the unique, practical and personal experience that St. Paul had in his life with the merciful, crucified and risen Jesus; a relationship non shared by John the Baptist. However, it does not exclude the truth of the terrible “unquenchable fire,” supported by the Forerunner of Jesus, which follows some vision of the prophets of Israel. It is, therefore, necessary to rejoice, but “in the Lord,” and not in the world; to maintain true joy, which finds the peace of God and in God “in every circumstance.” Whoever has this joy of Christ in the heart, “beyond all intelligence” will be a true witness of Christ to all: amiable, kind, cordial. He will carry on the mission of evangelizing, that is, of proclaiming the Gospel of God to everyone, as the Baptist already did with courageous words and actions.