Lip-service and empty words come to mind as I reflect on today’s Gospel. In our Gospel for this past Sunday, a sentence jumps out which may shed light on what we read today, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Matt 11:6) Jesus was responding to the question from John the Baptist early on in his ministerial life as to “the One whom they should look for.” (11:3), the blind see, the lame walk…etc. It begs the question, why on earth would anyone “take offense” at these Messianic works—isn’t that what they were longing for?
Today, eleven chapters and many miracles and signs later, Matthew is highlighting the authority of Jesus as he (Jesus) has open confrontations with the religious leaders. They were most definitely taking “offense” at him. The question I pondered surrounds the heart of Jesus; how did he do it? How did he constantly show up in the temple day after day sharing the love of God? How did he not lose hope or be totally discouraged? If we are to comprehend that he was truly human—how did he process all this pain and rejection especially from those church leaders who proclaimed to know his Father! Imagine the depth of that love!
We read that in the end the first son demonstrated self-less love while the second son demonstrated empty promises with no heart at all. It seems easy enough even for the leaders to see this truth. However, lest we see ourselves as the first son and get too puffed up with vainglory (Phil 2:3) we would do well to remember the type of love which Jesus taught and demonstrated. Agape—self-emptying love. As we unpack this scripture which combined with our first reading from Zephaniah is inviting us to see with the eyes of Jesus and live in awareness that those whom we judge as less or unworthy might just be responding to that self-emptying love in their lives.
Ah, there’s the rub! As I ponder Jesus’ response to his growing hostile circumstances, I ask for the grace of freedom to choose how I respond to the invitations for growth and truth in my own life. To be nourished as I “Immerse myself in the immensity of the Sea of God’s Love.” (St. Paul of the Cross)
May I always respond to any circumstances with his enduring heart for love and justice. May I never be blinded by preconceived ideas but see and hear the voice of love calling me forth. And as I sing the hymns of Advent—may my words be authentic—not empty. May I truly live into those words and not get side-tracked by all the demands of the season; may I wait in joyful hope.
May we all take to heart the words of our Psalm and “let our souls glory in the Lord.” (Psalm 34:3).
Come, Lord Jesus. Fill every corner of our world with your self-emptying love. Amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.