Gospel Reflection for Dec. 10, 2023, Second Sunday of Advent
Being driven to the wilderness is an important emotional and symbolic event in the life of the Church.
Long before the dawn of Christianity the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness being prepared to enter the Promised Land. After Jesus was baptized it was to the wilderness that he retired to be nurtured and tempted in preparation for his public ministry. When the Romans began to persecute the Church, the disciples fled to the desert in order to find protection and to experience the community, which led to the building up of the Church. The wilderness is not primarily a place of seclusion, though at times it has that immediate effect, it is always a time of preparation for the task ahead.
Modern life seems to leave many people feeling that they are in the wilderness. We are lost in a sea of technology, live at a time of increasingly divergent social trends, and seem to be overwhelmed with information. The wilderness seems like a safe haven now.
John the Baptist entered the wilderness perhaps seeking a deeper relationship with God, and certainly as he discerned his own place in salvation history. While we cannot know what he knew, and we only know of his work through the disciples of Jesus as they remember him in the Gospels, his mission certainly anticipated and prefigured that of Jesus.
While Jesus himself enters the wilderness for an extended period after his Baptism and seems to retreat there on occasion during his ministry, Jesus entered the marketplace and engaged others within the synagogues. John remained in the wilderness, preferring the fringes as he attracted those who sought a sense of refuge from the maddening world of their own time. The religious and social posturing of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Zealots and the Essenes, and those who belong to none of the above, struggled to live the Law in an occupied Roman world. John drew people from the noise to the wilderness so that they might hear the Word of God there as did he, leading them to conversion.
Jesus drew the people from the wilderness and challenged them to live in the world and to bring the Kingdom of God into that world.
For our part today we are a Church on the cusp of both worlds. Some feel alienated from the Church and prefer a church in the wilderness waiting for current trends to pass so that they might revitalize the church of old and make it new again.
Some people prefer to live on the very fringes of society, fearing the corruption of the world and distrusting the ability to find any value in the world around us.
This tension has been a part of the life of the disciples of Jesus from the beginning, and it remains so even now. Those in the marketplace and at the center of power are usually weary and suspicious of those who prefer the wilderness and the fringes. Those who are in the wilderness and the fringes have little faith or trust in those who are in the marketplace and the centers of power.
The vast majority of us who really are neither at the center or on the edge can be confused, and perhaps even scandalized by either side. We do not know what to make of them, as both seem to be a bit off kilter, yet often we are forced to take sides.
The faithful disciples of Jesus have always been a bit like this -- some prefer the wilderness and others prefer the marketplace. The Gospel needs to be preached in both places and to thrive in both places,
The disciples of Jesus -- some of whom were once disciples of John -- left the wilderness but never lost sight of that wilderness.
Today we must learn again to walk comfortably in both worlds, and to be faithful disciples where we are, and to understand and appreciate those disciples who choose to live where we are not, as we trust in the Spirit to guides us all to be one.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.