Thursday, Second Week of Advent

First Reading: Is. 41:13-20; Ps. 145:1 and 9. 10-11, 12-13ab; Gospel: Mt. 11:11-15

In today’s gospel, Jesus brings clarity to the notion of what greatness really is, not as is understood by the world, but in the eyes of God. He was unequivocal in his teaching so as to rule out the possibility of conceited self-righteousness, of condescending spiritual superiority. ‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’ (Mt. 11:11). Not that Jesus doesn’t reckon his spirituality, his fidelity, his moral standing, his asceticism, his virtuous life. In fact, Jesus acknowledges the greatness of John by extolling him as the greatest among mortals, greatest among those born of women. Yet, in spite of all his goodwill, he would still fall short of perfection to stand in the presence of the all-perfect, all-good God. The least in the kingdom of heaven, however, has been fully purged of his/her shortcomings and is made perfect to enjoy the Beatific Vision. Whosoever one might be, one could neither merit nor inherit the kingdom of heaven solely by one’s efforts, but only by cooperating with the gratuitously abounding graces of God.

More than conceding to a defeatist attitude by giving up on our efforts, we must all the more conform ourselves to God by our faith that is lived by and not simply professed.

Jesus further goes on to say that the kingdom of heaven is something that must be conquered…that would be seized only by violent men. Make no mistake. Jesus did not advocate violence; what he asks of us is to not yield to sin but to combat evil that prevails only for a while. What he asks of us is to be resilient…to endure no matter what the cost. Jesus says that with John, the prophetic age has come to an end. The time has come to progress from heeding to listening. Listening is much more than heeding. Heeding calls for mindfulness. Listening calls for action. It’s now time to practice our faith than to decipher it from prophecies and merely profess it.

The first reading tells us of our Lord who will take hold of our right hand and further assures us of his assistance (Is. 41:13-14). Only the hand at work (as denoted by the right hand) …the hand at the service of our neighbour would be assisted by God. A person who is passive would never experience God’s help. Only the hand that combats evil …the hand that toils for justice and upholds gospel values will be assisted by God. Certainly, it is not easy. But that’s how it is. None of us expect the dawn to break before nightfall; nor do we expect springtime to arrive before the winter season. Lakes and brooks are appreciated most by those who’ve experienced deserts and wastelands. Only tongues parched with thirst truly value water to its last drop. May God help us overcome the challenges and difficulties that lay ahead of us before we encounter Jesus in all his glory.

But first, we got to put our hands to work before God could help us, right? Then what are we waiting for – for the Lord’s second coming?

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