We are halfway through Advent. This third Sunday is traditionally named Gaudete after the first word of the Entrance Antiphon. It is a quotation from the letter to the Philippians (4:4-5), where Saint Paul invites us to rejoice in the Lord. Why? Because “the Lord is near.” Yes, the coming of the Lord is drawing near; and so, we should be happy. Even the liturgical color the priest wears today is not the gloomy purple used during Advent and Lent, but the more cheerful rose. Our heart should really be overflowing with joy for the imminent coming of the Lord.
The first reading tells us why we should rejoice for the Lord’s coming: “He comes to save you.” We need to be saved; we cannot save ourselves. The Prophet enumerates a series of signs that will be performed by the future Savior, the expected Messiah: “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.”
These are precisely the signs performed by Jesus during his public ministry; and so, they show that he is the Messiah, the Savior expected by the Jews and the whole mankind. That is why, when John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask him if it is he the one who is to come, Jesus replies: “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.”
John had already recognized Jesus as the Messiah, when he had baptized him at the Jordan river. On that occasion, he had borne his witness saying: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn 1:32-34). How come now John inquires about Jesus’ messiahship? If you remember, last Sunday’s gospel reported the content of John’s preaching: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now, near to the end of his life, realizing that Jesus has adopted a style totally different from that expected, John wonders if Jesus is really the Messiah: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” And Jesus replies saying that the works he performs should be sufficient evidence of his messianic identity.
Jesus does not mean to reproach John for his question, nor can we feel entitled to reprove him for doubting of Jesus. But anyway, this incident should make us reflect. We cannot confine Jesus to our frame of thought; we cannot expect Jesus to adapt to our convictions; but it is we who have to accept him as he manifests to us. Jesus ends his reply to John’s disciples saying: “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Et beatus est, qui non fuerit scandalizatus in me). It is a benevolent warning to John and to each of us not to disbelieve because our expectations have not been met.
Then Jesus sings John’s praises for being “more than a prophet,” the last of the prophets, the messenger sent to prepare the way before him: “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.” But even in this case Jesus adds a meaningful remark: “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John, with all his greatness, still belongs to the Old Testament; he has prepared the coming of the kingdom of God; but now that kingdom has come. We are more blessed than John the Baptist: the least of us is greater than him. The Old Testament is over; the New Testament has begun.