2016 – Cycle A
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Have you ever been in jail?
How uncomfortable to be confined in a corner of a windowless room of peeling paint while the door to any sense of freedom was in the opposite corner. I say, sense of freedom because beyond that door there was no freedom but a series of barred gates; one of which did not open until the one behind you closed and locked. Keys, wads of keys hanging off belts. I was there to offer Mass. The prisoner-worshippers were between me and the door of a misleading freedom. The Gospel was of the thief who embezzled from his master. What was I supposed to preach? When will this be over with so I can get out?!
The spirals of barbed wired topping the high fence on a dark snowy night as we drove into the compound to hear confessions. Shades of the movie, The Shining.
A barred and police guarded unit in Albany Medical Center. The patient’s name, I still remember, was Bill. I was told not to ask personal information or why these patients were incarcerated. Bill requested a priest is all I needed to know. He was from Wallkill. I remember him every time I pass over the Wallkill River driving down the Thruway to New York City. It’s been over 20 years. What has happened to him?
A county jail. You hear a bodiless voice and face a faceless corrections officer behind one-way glass. It’s disturbing. You have to empty your pockets or learn to leave everything in the car expect your ID and key FOB. Metal detectors and walls; all kinds of walls, from glass over which you cannot adequately hug to individuality subsumed under identical prison uniforms; all under the watchful eyes of guards.
The visitor is made to feel in many ways like the imprisoned; dehumanized. Yes, I’ve been in jail. In all my experiences, I at least knew that in a short time I would be free, physically at least. For are we not all imprisoned in various other ways? How many of us don’t even know or acknowledge our captivity?
For those who work in our corrections system, the men and women who take on the responsibility to protect us and uphold the law, I realize there is some sense to all the rules. For the outsider though it is an alien world; an environment that instills disorientation. If this is how I felt, how do the prisoners feel? Matthew records that “when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.” [Matthew 4:12] The one who will be abandoned – abandons; out of fear, disorientation?
“When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he send his disciples to Jesus with this question “Are you the one who is to come…?”” The certainty about Jesus whom he baptized in the Jordon is now called into question. Does John’s question arise out of his disorientation? I wonder what he thought of the answer Jesus sent back: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.
What comfort could there have been in these words for John when Jesus’ answer omits the Isaian promise to proclaim liberty to captives [See Isaiah 61:1:-2; Luke 4:18-19]? Did Jesus withdraw to Galilee because he could do nothing for John in his imprisonment? John never is recorded as speaking again. He is executed, silenced.
Yet John’s question hangs over the head of every Christian: “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Have you ever had the courage to ask such a question; to challenge what you were taught or believe about your relationship with Jesus? Or do you keep such thoughts far from consciousness afraid of what your answer might be? Is faith, belief, trust, whatever you call it, that has never been tested, really faith? An untried faith which can easily find other draws?
In our present fractured culture and world imprisoned in fear, frustration, movement toward isolationism in our personal as well as economic, political and national situations many people are disoriented and looking for another.
I have wondered after 30 years, of all the babies I have baptized, how many have been raised and are maturing as Christians? For how many children was their First Communion their Last Communion while these children are being brought up in homes that are looking for another? Of all the couples I’ve presided over their marriage vows, how many are maturing into one flesh or are looking for another? Of all the adolescents that I’ve witnessed confirmed, how many of them are looking for another, disoriented by the culture; hearing stronger(?) and different messengers then the one in our Christian gatherings? How many Christians treat religion and Sacraments like everything else – a consumer product to use and discard rather than a lifestyle were the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.
Jail is a disorienting place for the prisoner, the corrections officers and the family and visitor. Disorientation causes us to not trust ourselves and so we grasp for what is familiar and secure or as John suggests look for another in other places. The Jesus who ran off to the safety of Galilee had to eventually leave Galilee because the Living – God is never secure.
We gather in mid–Advent. Acknowledged or not, we are all in the jails of our own making: sin, fear, situations when life, belief, is called into question. Are you disoriented? In this Advent, are you seeking the one who is in our midst or are you looking for another?