Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.
Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84)
FIRST READING Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song. The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.
SECOND READING James 5:7-10
Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
GOSPEL Matthew 11:2-11
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Last Sunday the Prophet Isaiah spoke about the image of the peaceable Kingdom of God. This image includes beating swords into plowshares and all creatures living peacefully with one another—including us humans. This Sunday, the Prophet Isaiah adds to that image by stating: “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.” Although this is an image of a kingdom of this earth, it also becomes the image of the Kingdom of Heaven: saved by God alone, crowned with joy, meeting one another with joy and gladness—and finally, no sorrow or mourning.
The second reading today comes from the Letter of James and advise us all to be patient for the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is at hand—and that means that it can come at any time. It is a kingdom for which we must live now, even though it has not yet come. The best advice about how to live now in expectation of the Kingdom is this: “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.” What a different world we would have if we all lived that way! This is not a call to inaction, but a call to a clear way of living. I think of the great example of Mohandas Gandhi who showed us how to live the non-violence of Jesus. Who is showing us how to live without complaint? Gandhi was certainly involved in politics and in changing our world—but by peaceful means. Who of us can change the world by not complaining about others?
Today Gospel, from the Gospel of Matthew, brings us back to John the Baptist—developing this image from where we left off last Sunday. Instead of the image of John the Baptist preaching repentance from last week, we have the image of him sending his followers to ask Jesus: are you the one? This is a question that each of us needs to ask from time to time: are you the one? We want our faith to remain full of life and also deeply personal. We never want our faith to become just one other aspect of our lives. We want to give ourselves completely to the Lord because of our knowledge of His deep and personal love for us. Are you the one?
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus makes clear to all who listen: the most important reality in life is to belong to the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist is the greatest born of women but that counts for nothing unless he also belongs to the Kingdom of God. This is a comparison of the reality of this earth with the reality of the heavenly kingdom. In the Kingdom of Heaven we are all completely in the hands of God and will not be striving to be one greater than the other. We shall be completely ourselves and completely full of the love of God—with only the desire to live in love with God and all God’s creation. Amen.
Your brother in the Lord,
Abbot Emeritus Philip