Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday of Advent, 2019.
Why would Saint John the Baptist have his followers ask Jesus, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” If we think that John himself was not sure of who Jesus was, would not this be at odds with the picture we have of John Baptist from Saint John’s gospel? It would be at odds. For in Saint John’s gospel, John the Baptist sees into the depth of Jesus from the first. At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus is coming toward John the Baptist, and John responds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” These of course are words we hear as the Sacrament is shown before us in Holy Communion. It is no more apparent to normal vision that the bread that is held up is the Lamb of God—that it is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ—than is it apparent to normal vision that Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary (and, we can presume many thought, also of Joseph) was the Messiah, was the Chosen One of God, was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God Himself. John the Baptist, in other words, had a clear sense of who Jesus was. John could see Jesus in depth. John had come for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. John was not the light, the scriptures reveal, but came to bear witness to the light.
So then what is this passage from Saint Matthew really about? The key to this passage are the words of Our Lord, “The blind receive their sight.” Those words, and the words that come after—the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear—those are echoed in our passage from Isaiah: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame man will leap like a hart (an older word for deer), and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.” These are symbolic descriptions meant to remind us that the Word of God is a transforming word—that the Word of God transforms our heart, transforms the whole way we look at the world, the whole way we look at ourselves, the whole way we relate with reality. Seeing in depth, like John.
Faith’s name for reality is God. But it often takes time for faith to name reality as God. Isaiah speaks of a highway called the Holy Way. This highway is the way Jesus has prepared for us that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways. Those who walk the Holy Way do so through prayer—certainly through specific prayers we say, but even more so through a prayerful way of regarding our existence. Our eucharistic canon speaks of this: that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto God. This means being “eucharistic,” for the word “eucharist” means giving thanks. Why be this way? Because, as we sing a moment after that, Heaven and earth are full of God’s glory. Growing into our recognition of that truth is how we walk the Holy Way spoken of by Isaiah. Jesus sent the followers of John Baptist back to him with the good news of God revealed in Christ. Carrying the words of Christ with them as they walked back to John Baptist meant those words of good news began to lodge in their heart—and so their walk back to John Baptist became a pilgrimage. They walked the Holy Way in some sense, because walking the Holy Way means seeing all of reality in more depth, seeing in more truth.
The Lord sets the prisoners free; we heard the Psalmist say: the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. Seeing only the physical world is from the Christian perspective to be blind to the invisible truth of God. As the Apostle Paul taught, Christ is the image of the invisible God. Christ is that image of the invisible, not only in His physical person, but in His actions, and in His words. And in what is spoken about Him in the scriptures. As I have said, Advent takes its root in the first chapter of Acts at the Ascension of Jesus, when the 120 disciples learn from angelic revelation that Jesus, Who was taken up into heaven, will come in the same way they saw Him go into heaven. It was this revelation that fully opened the eyes of the 120 disciples to the invisible God revealed in Christ crucified and resurrected. It was this revelation that opened the eyes of the 120 disciples to see the Mount of Olives transformed from dry, desert land into the Holy Mountain of God—always to be looked towards to find God in His coming, and therefore God in His actual presence.
And thus the whole passage of Isaiah is transformed because the hearts and minds and eyes of the early Church had been transformed by the reality of Christ crucified and resurrected. The wilderness and the dry land of the Mount of Olives became in Isaiah’s words, “glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing . . . They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” This seeing in depth by the Light of Christ who is crucified and resurrected and walks with us on the Holy Way is what prayer means: the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread that we may know that He is everywhere and in all places—that wherever we may be in the desert streams of living water may break forth.