In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist preaches to his fellow Jews. They shared expectations about what God was going to do when he came to set things right in the world.
Today’s first reading gives a sample of the prophesies that fed their expectations. When God brings his people together, Baruch declares, they will be “borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.”
As they proceed toward salvation, “God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.” It will be splendid!
John aroused people’s hopes that these promises were now going to be fulfilled. Yet, when Jesus — the one for whom John was preparing the way — appeared, he didn’t lead people on a triumphal march to Jerusalem to overthrow enemies and miraculously restore justice and prosperity.
After his baptism by John in the Jordan, Jesus returned to the villages of Galilee to heal the sick, forgive people’s sins and teach them how to live in God’s kingdom.
His listeners needed to let go of their picture of how God was going to fulfill his promises. They needed to focus their attention on Jesus, trust that he knew what he was doing, humble themselves and learn from him how to cooperate with the way God’s kingdom was actually coming into the world.
What about us? Don’t we too have expectations for how God will move obstacles out of the way, give us success, protect us and fill our lives with blessings?
But then we lose a parent, or a child, or a spouse. We make some mistakes and suffer hard consequences. We lose our job, we lose our health, we begin to lose our mind. We and those close to us suffer in one way or another.
The gap between our expectations for how God was going to work in our lives and what is actually happening can become huge. This puts us right back there with the people who first encountered Jesus in Galilee.
We have the opportunity to discover more deeply, or perhaps for the first time, who he really is and what he has come to do in our lives. If we pay attention, we will experience what the psalmist proclaims today: “Those who sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.”