Third Sunday of Advent

Our gospel reading, like that of last Sunday, focuses on John the Baptist, but his ministry is now at an end. He is in prison, and martyrdom awaits him. Curiously, he seems to have doubts about Jesus being the Messiah. He who was so confident in proclaiming the one who was to come now seems confused. How can we explain John’s uncertainty?

A major feature of the preaching of John the Baptist was the coming of judgement. As we heard in last week’s gospel, John expected the Messiah to bring retribution, to separate the chaff from the wheat and to consign the chaff to fire. John must learn that the way of Jesus is different: he brings healing and life, and good news for all.

This gospel reading has a powerful message for us. If it was indeed difficult for John to come to terms with the gospel of mercy, it may well be difficult for us to come to terms with the extraordinary love of God, who offers forgiveness to all. The gospel challenges us to accept in our minds and hearts that the Son of God brings forgiveness, and that the only thing which can deny us salvation and eternal life is our own refusal to be forgiven and loved. The one who is least in the kingdom of heaven knows this, and is ‘greater than John.