Homily (Reflection) for the Second Sunday of Advent, (A) (4th December, 2016) on the Gospel

Is 11:1-10;
Ps 72:1-2.7-8.12-13.17. (R. v.7);
Rom 15:4-9;
Matt 3:1-12.

Topic: Repentance bears fruits.
The Jews had seen a good number of prophets before the time of John the Baptist. So his appearance in the wilderness could be seen by some as one of those things that take place and therefore paid little or no attention to his message. In line with this, hearing the word of God is so much common today that sometimes we do not pay attention to the message. John was sent to the Jews just as many are sent to us today. The question is what do we make of these?
In today’s gospel, John queried the Pharisees and Sadducees: “…You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Sin begets death unless the sinner repents. The Pharisees and Sadducees are the leaders and people suppose to emulate them, cf. Jn 7:48. They suffered so much to convert people only to make them candidates of hell, cf. Matt 23:15. Again, they neglected the most important religious duties like “justice and mercy and faith” to perform those that will attract people’s attention and praise, cf. Matt 23:23. And again, they were full of extortion, rapacity and wickedness, cf. Lk 11:39; Matt 23:25. Jesus likened them to whitewashed tombs because although they parade themselves as the best but they were full of evil, cf. Matt 23:27. They were not comfortable seeing people going to God, may be they thought that the keys were in their hands, Mk 2:16, Lk 15:2. They ought to be avoided, Lk 12:1.
Truly, we are all called to true repentance because our lives like that of the Pharisees and Sadducees are not good enough. True repentance is not barren. Hence John went on: “Bear fruit worthy of repentance”. Such fruits must be evident in our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters. God expects fruits always, cf. Mk 11:13; Matt 21:19. It is not enough to parade oneself as a born again.
Repentance is central not just in John’s teaching but in Jesus’ as well, cf. Mk 1:14-15. However, despite the importance of repentance, no explanation was offered because their original hearers knew what they were talking about. Repentance for the Jews according to William Barclay in his work The daily study bible, 1, “was central to all religious faith and to all relationship with God”. And for the Rabbis, repentance brings healing upon the world, the great mediatorial bond between God and man, cf. p.52. Repentance for them is the gateway back to God:
‘Who is like God a teacher of sinners that they may repent?’ They asked Wisdom, ‘What shall be the punishment of the sinner?’ Wisdom answered: ‘Misfortune pursues sinners’ (Proverbs 13:21). They asked Prophecy. It replied: ‘The soul that sins shall die’ (Ezekiel 18: 4). They asked the Law. It replied: ‘Let him bring a sacrifice’ (Leviticus 1: 4). They asked God, and he replied: ‘Let him repent and obtain his atonement. My children, what do I ask of you? Seek me and live.’ p.52. [cf. Am 5:4].
Repentance in Hebrew (Jewish) is teshubah from the noun shub meaning to turn. Therefore, “Repentance is a turning away from evil and turning towards God,” p. 52. In Greek, it is metanoia which means a change of heart.
The Jews have nine conditions for true repentance; they are based on Isaiah 1:16. “1. Wash yourselves; 2. make yourselves clean; 3. remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes, 4. cease to do evil, 5. learn to do good, 6. seek justice, 7. correct oppression; 8. defend the fatherless, 9. plead for the widow.” p.54.
The question now is whether we still consider repentance important. Sometimes our church or the group/s we belong to in the church or even the position we occupy either in the church or in the society seem to be more important to us than God Himself. The advice of John is still as important today as ever: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham”.
The period of Advent is a period of turning back to God from the various directions that we have turned. We are called to repent from all our evil ways. The people who came to John confessed their sins. Do you remember the last time you made a good confession? As we repent, the teaching of the rabbis that if one has something unclean in his or her hands, even if he or she washes his or her hands in all the rivers in the world, they remain dirty because the source of its dirtiness is still there is very much true. God wants us to part with not just sin but also with whatever that leads us into sin so that there will be enough space for the King of kings and Lord of lords in our lives.
John the Baptist went on to warn, “...the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”. It is left for us to choose whether to bear fruit or not. This is the right time.
Bible Reading: Ezek 33:10-20; Lk 13:6-9; Hos 14: 1-2; Jer 31: 18-20.
Thought for today: If you have repented, how fruitful are you; if not, what holds you back?
Let us pray: God our Father, give us the grace and courage to hearken to the voice of your Son you sent into the world to call us to repentance – Amen.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

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