Advent 3A: The Joyful Political Subversion of the Gospel

The slow, hard work of changing the world comes through the acts of love Jesus declares are being done.


“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

What a question!

It’s the third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Joy, but John the Baptist isn’t feeling particularly joyful. He is in Herod’s prison for speaking truth to power, and he will soon be beheaded. He sends his followers to Jesus to ask, “Is this it?” The revolution, the overthrow of Roman occupation and the liberation of the people… is Jesus going to be the one to do it? From John’s vantage point in prison, Jesus’ methods seem unconvincing.

Yet Jesus answers with news that is truly joyful. See for yourself, he says. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news.” This is good news indeed.

But the joy that has come into the world hasn’t eradicated the suffering. Instead, joy is in the midst of suffering. All of these wonderful things are happening, but the land is still occupied and John is still in prison. Jesus isn’t going to lead an army against Rome or bust his cousin out.

The slow, hard work of changing the world comes through the acts of love Jesus declares are being done. Defeating enemies seems like the faster path, but that only continues cycles of violence. Can we find joy in the love and healing even when sorrow and pain are still very much present? Can we bring joy directly into the suffering, focusing on helping the vulnerable more than defeating our enemies? Can the joy we spread transform the enmity in which we live?

Jesus is bringing revolution, but the revolution will not be militarized. He’s subverting the Powers that Be, and he’s also frustrating those who had counted on him to use the power of violence against the violent powers. 

Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at his nonviolent revolution. It can be hard not to take offense at mercy when it seems like mercy is slowing down justice. But mercy is the most direct path to justice. 

John the Baptist may not understand that yet, but Jesus knows that his heart for justice is true. “Among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” Jesus says. The kingdom of heaven is where the powers of mercy and love reign, and no one is there yet. But when the kingdom comes, as we build it through following Jesus’s way of mercy, the categories of least and greatest will cease. 

The Olive

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