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Friday, second week of Advent

December 15, 2006

Blessed Friday!

Readings:
Isaiah 48:17-19 (God teaches us what is good for us)
Psalm 1:1-6 “Those who follow You, Lord, will have the light of life”
+ Matthew 11:16-19 (we criticize God, no matter what He does)

Our journey to Heaven could be compared to the game “Follow the Leader”. The only way to lose is to not participate…but that doesn’t mean it’ll always be easy to do what our Leader does and commands. Jesus uses the image of children’s games in today’s criticism of those who would not follow Him. “It is like to children playing in the marketplace”, He said, “crying to their companions…‘We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned.’” They had dismissed St. John the Baptist because he would not dance for them. But how could he dance when those who were supposed to be the holiest ones in Israel, the example to everyone else, were a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7); when he saw the ax of God’s righteousness laid to the root of the sinful tree of Israel (Matthew 3:10)? They likewise disregarded Jesus because He didn’t participate in their mourning. But how could He mourn when the whole purpose for His earthly life was being fulfilled, when sinners were turning to holiness?

In the children’s game, it’s usually not all that important who leads because there is no particular goal in mind except to have fun together. If you’re trying to get somewhere, suddenly leadership becomes much more important. If you’re trying to get to Heaven, leadership becomes critical. You only get there by following the right leader. That’s God’s lament in our first reading: “I, the Lord your God teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go. If you would hearken to My commandments, your prosperity would be like a river, and your vindication like the waves of the sea” (Isaiah 48:17-18). Note the “if”. If we try to follow anyone other than God, we’ll wind up at a disastrous destination. At best we’ll be like the blind leading the blind–both fall into a pit (Luke 6:39). At worst we’ll find out too late that the “Light Bearer” we thought was a heavenly angel was actually Lucifer in one of his more attractive disguises (the name “Lucifer” means “Light Bearer”).

That’s where the people of Jesus’ day went wrong, and we’re not immune to that mistake ourselves. God sent John the Baptist as a leader, to prepare the way for the Messiah. But the people of his day thought he was too harsh, so they refused to believe he knew what he was talking about. They tried to take over, to lead him. The blind tried to lead the one who could see! The same thing happened with Jesus, only in the opposite direction. Where they’d thought the Baptist was too strict, they thought Jesus was too lenient. They took it upon themselves to judge God’s messengers by their own human standards and got it wrong both times.

That’s happened throughout the history of the Church. The Arians thought the Church was too strict in refusing to give up churches for Arian use (the 300’s). The Novatians (in the late 200’s) thought the Church was too lenient–in their case, too lenient in allowing those who had denied their faith during persecution to return to the Church after a period of public repentance. Today we have those who think the Church is too strict for insisting that we kneel during Mass (among other things) and those who think Rome is too lenient for allowing the Mass to be celebrated in English (again, among other things). “We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned” (Matthew 11:17). When we try to take over, to remake the Church in our own image, whether that image is strict or lenient, we are following in the footsteps of the people Jesus rebuked. But “wisdom is justified by her children” (Matthew 11:19). Rather, let us hearken to His commandments, so that our prosperity would be like a river, and our vindication like the waves of the sea (see Isaiah 48:17-18). Let’s follow the real Leader in the way that He has asked of us so we may arrive safely in our heavenly homeland.

May God’s gifts of wisdom and fortitude (Isaiah 11:2) strengthen us for the journey, especially when following Him is particularly difficult.

Yours in His footsteps

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