Open our minds

  • November 24, 2010
Second Sunday of Advent (Year A) Dec. 5  (Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12)

How can our messy world be cleaned up and set right? Some form of this question is uppermost in the minds of many people. We long for a world of justice, peace, harmony and compassion but it seems to elude us — many of our efforts not only fail but seem to make matters worse. That pesky and destructive thing called human nature is often the culprit. But there are no quick fixes and no divine figure is going to wave a wand and make the problems go away.

Isaiah promised his own troubled people a superhuman figure — righteous and incorruptible — who will rule with justice, wisdom and fear of God. As an added bonus, he can wipe out the wicked with breath from his lips. But Isaiah was really on a roll and he went on to prophesy a time when humans would be reconciled and harmonized with nature. The old fears of predators and violence would be a thing of the past. Not only that, humanity would know and understand God in a way that they had never experienced.

Is this just a dream or unrealistic wishful thinking? It has not happened — the Jewish people continued to experience many misfortunes and even the early followers of Jesus were disappointed that the hoped for renewal of the world did not occur. But this is prophetic literature — it is intended to inspire and give hope, not lay out an exact blueprint for future events.

In symbolic form the passage paints a picture of the incredible power that is brought to bear on the world when God is factored into human efforts. We are given the tools and the operating principles along with God’s spirit — and the rest is up to us. Steadfastness and encouragement — they both go hand in hand and one is not possible without the other. It is so easy to buckle at the knees or give up under the blows of misfortune, persecution or personal struggle. Threats and psycho-religious terrorism cannot create courage, fidelity or goodness, but encouragement can give them the strength to stand fast in the values and ideals that they hold most dear. Encouragement is a great gift that we can give one another and should be one of our highest priorities.

John the Baptist is not what one would call an encouraging individual. Seized by the urgency of his vision of an apocalyptic and fiery visitation by God and the judgment of humankind, he used dire and frightening imagery to call people to repentance — a word that perhaps gets bad press. It evokes images of emotional tent revivals and moral reform but the term has a far deeper meaning. Metanoia — repentance — is far more than mere moral reform. The word denotes a change in mind and heart as well as a new way of thinking and living — a true inner revolution.

John is not impressed with the “brood of vipers” that show up to undergo his baptism. They stand in line with those of all religions in every age who play it safe with God. They are hedging their bets just in case but are superficial and insincere. Their only concern is to save their own skins. They also appeal to their status as members of the people of God, but Jesus warns them — and us — that membership alone in any group means nothing. It is the quality and disposition of one’s heart and soul that determines if one is walking with God or not. Spiritual and mental superficiality is always counter-productive and debilitating but never more so than in a period of great crisis and challenge — such as our own age.

Einstein once said that a problem cannot be solved on the same level in which it was created. A new model and vision is needed that transcends the old. As the crushing problems of our own world threaten to overwhelm us, moral, economic, environmental and religious, we struggle to make old systems work with old and outmoded tools. Perilous times call for true metanoia, a searching inner examination and a willingness to question old ways of thinking and attitudes.

The future belongs to those with open minds and magnanimous hearts. In fact, this disposition to grow and change might just determine whether humanity even has a future.

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