My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who will come again in glory in the power of the Holy Spirit. I heard a story about a monastery that was undergoing some hard times. It used to thrive and be filled with monks but had fallen on hard times and was down to six cantankerous monks. It had been years since anyone had gone to the monastery for spiritual direction or a young person had tried to join them. When their old abbot died and the new one was chosen, he searched out some advice from a local hermit who was renowned for his holiness. He explained that the monks were very small and were really short with one another in the hallways and he wondered if he should close down the monastery. The hermit thought for a moment and then said to the abbot that one of the monks was the messaih.The abbot was surprised and shot back that it was impossible. But the hermit simply insisted even more severely that one of the monks was the messiah but he's disguising himself with by taking on some personal foibles.
So, the abbot returned to his monastery and for one whole day surveyed the monks to see if he could spot him. There was brother Jack who spent almost every waking moment in the chapel in prayer. But, when he wasn't in the chapel, he was kind of a jerk in the hallway. But maybe that was just covering himself. Maybe he was the messiah. Or maybe it was Brother Dennis who was so jovial and so charitible. He always helped other people with a smile on his face. And you always know how to find him because he's always down in the kitchen sneaking food. In fact, he's there so often that he's really a glutton. But maybe he's the messiah and is using his big belly to cover for it.
The next day, the abbot went to the rest of the monastery and told them what the hermit had told him and explained that he was sure he was right. The rest of the monks did a similar evaluation of their brothers and, over the course of the next few weeks, began to treat each other differently. Soon, their change in attitude became noticed by the local population who started going to them for spiritual direction. Then, they started gaining a few younger monks...a complete and total change.
In today's gospel, John the baptist identifies Jesus as, "...one among you whom you do not recognize..." It's easy for us to sit in judgment of the Jews of Jesus' time. They had the opportunity to get to know the messiah but they just missed the chance. But, remember that they thought there was going to be a lot of fanfare surrounding the messiah. They thought that Elijah would come out of the sky in his fiery chariot and Isaiah the prophet would return with his fiery rhetoric exhorting them to return to the Lord. And, instead, they got John the Baptist out in the middle of nowhere preaching repentance to the poor and outcasts of society and the messiah came in some unimportant town to some unimportant family.
It reminded me of a song that I heard a few years ago by country singer Colin Raye. It tells the story of a homeless bum living under bridges begging food and money from people. He's the type of person who annoys you when you see him on the street, who gets removed from the front of grocery stores. What if Jesus comes back like that? Would we so quickly turn our back on him? Or what about the infant daughter of a pair of crack addicts. The baby shivers in her incubator and the parents, who have no money to pay the medical bills, basically abandon her. The medical care is going to cost millions and she'll likely be mentally and physically handicapped. She's the type of child that you kind of wish could just die in her sleep. But what if Jesus comes back like that? Would you still want them to pull the plug, still want them to just let her die peacefully?
There are so many times that we forget that we are created in the image and likeness of God and that that demands we treat each other with love and respect. That cranky coworker you avoid at work. What if Jesus comes back like that? That annoying child crying in the pew in front of you. What if Jesus comes back like that. They didn't expect him the first time, what makes you think we know for sure the way he's coming the second? What if Jesus comes back like that?