3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A
Do Justice to the Struggle
Free will might be the greatest, and most challenging, of all of God’s gifts. If God, the model parent, is our Father, then it follows that we should seek to parent like He does. So, does that mean we should give our children free will? Chalk that answer up to the mystery of faith.
Before we all adopt a strictly hands-off approach to parenting, scripture also says, “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), and “Children, obey your parents…for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1-4). Jesus understands people have to be taught first and then given the free will to make mistakes. Never making mistakes, and never recovering from mistakes, does not create full-formed humans. God didn’t want a following of auto-mons; He wanted people who chose Him. In this gospel, Jesus demonstrates His Father’s approach beautifully.
From prison, John the Baptist sends some of his followers to ask if Jesus is the Messiah they’ve all waited for. Rather than give a straight answer, Jesus points to all He has done: “the blind receive sight, the lame walk…” (v.5). In true Jesus-fashion, Jesus isn’t pointing to Himself. He points to the Kingdom. Jesus leaves it up to John’s followers, and John, to determine whether He is the Christ. They are learned me. They know the Messianic prophecies. Does Jesus fulfill them? If so, He is the One they have been waiting for.
If Jesus had told John’s followers straight up that He was the Messiah, they would all instantly be Jesus’s followers. But, their development as true Christians would be short-circuited. There might be more Christians in the pews, but would they really follow Jesus? Or would they be “following” the necessary boxes that would put them in Jesus’s camp? It sounds suspiciously like the church situation in Western society today. People have begun to do less of the box-checking that has been put in place to make them Christian, and there are fewer Christians. When we box-check, we abdicate our ability to think, to use the God-given gift of our brains. When we box-check, we submit the authority of God to a mere checklist. Jesus came to abolish the checklist, the yoke that no one could endure.
We have to wrestle with faith or it never becomes ours; God never becomes our Father. He stays out in the ether world. God knew we had to have free will do justice to the struggle. He gave Jesus the same gift of free will, and Jesus struggled: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) is pretty powerful stuff. But Jesus overcame the struggle. We can do the same if we’ve been taught and then given the freedom to make our choice.
Perhaps that’s the best gift around this Advent season. Jesus struggled and overcame, and His example allows us to do the same if we’re willing to step into the ring and do justice to the struggle.