3rd Sunday of Advent – John the Baptizer
Today we reflect on a man called John, in the Hebrew, Yohanan. It is tempting to see John as an historic figure, wild and eccentric certainly, hugely influential of course – but essentially sometime whose time came and then departed. But John’s work did not cease with the coming of Jesus, nor did it die with him. He still calls for repentance and a radical change of life, that it is not good enough to trust to your belonging to a community, your acts of worship, if at the heart of you – nothing has really changed.
On his way to Jerusalem Jesus instructs his disciples in the demands and the expectations to come. Discipleship is a hard road ahead he warns, you had better be prepared for what it will require of you.
We know in our hearts that we always hold something back, out of caution, out of fear, out of the simple desire to place our own desires, our own advantage, our own comfort before the call of Jesus that we can hear, that is often repeated to us, but we have learned to temper, to compromise and to water down.
But if we can acknowledge this tendency, we are at least taking the first faltering steps towards spiritual growth and the development of our souls
The story of the healing of the afflicted man, sometimes referred to as the Miracle of the Gadarene Swine, is a story about one man, a profoundly personal experience, but also about the wider community of his time, the way that mental ill health and spiritual pain were both viewed, and indeed created, by the socially and politically oppressive systems of their day. We should also note the seeming disregard of the narrative towards the suffering and death of the pigs, and the terrible loss of their owners. Are they both metaphorically and literally ciphers? Is the antipathy in fact directed elsewhere? What does the story teach us about the time of Jesus, and indeed our own?
It was once said by a famous politician that ‘there is no such thing as society’, but one could counter by saying that there is actually no such thing as an individual. For our experiences of one another, temporary as those encounters may sometimes be, can well influence who we are and who we later become. And if even transient encounters can shape us, how much more profoundly might we be affected and re-made by some of the most loving and powerful relationships of our lives? We do not remain the same, we are not untouched – we grow, we are moved, we become a quite different person to the one who might have been. We live our lives, we find our meaning in and through relationship. When we look at the Trinity we see this reality already expressed, already lived, timeless and eternal.