Jesus compared “this generation” to children who could not be satisfied. For when the flute was played for them they did not dance, when the dirge was played they did not mourn. There was no pleasing them no matter what. Jesus drew the parallel to the present bystanders who acted as fickle as the children. They criticized John as being possessed for practicing fasting and asceticism. They also criticized Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard for his table fellowship with all who were willing.
In today’s Gospel account, Jesus could have been addressing his detractors as well as his disciples. He encouraged his followers to be wary not to wallow in the mud of fickleness, but also to be clear that their preaching and teaching was to be based on being a dispenser of his truth and the will of his Father and not the reaction of the people, for “wisdom is vindicated by her works” (Mt 11:19). Just as Jesus taught that false prophets would be revealed over time by their fruits (cf. Mt 7:16), so those who were true to his teachings would be vindicated, if not fully in this life, certainly then in the next.
Pope Francis said that, “The first thing for a disciple is to be with the Master, to listen to him and learn from him” (Francis 2014, 15). May we pray for open hearts and minds eager and willing to hear the word of Jesus our Master and the courage to act upon his leading in our everyday circumstances. To do so, we must first slow down our pace and quiet our minds sufficiently enough so that we can even hear his word. We also need to discern the difference between his voice, our own, and the many others distractions and temptations we hear. God himself speaks to us in so many ways; directly in the silence of the heart, through others, spiritual direction, small groups, fellowship, through the Bible, as well as our culture, and influences, through his creation, in so many ways.
More often than not, we may not definitively know if what we hear and how we are being moved is coming from God. We seek support and confirmation from Scripture and Tradition, others who are wise and practiced in following God, reassess our intention and goal, and then go. If we are wrong, we learn from our mistakes and begin again. If we are on the mark, this helps us to build our confidence in knowing the voice of Jesus. What we do not want to do is remain indecisive out of fear or anxiety, from the perceived reaction that will come. Nor do we want to remain indifferent to action.
Let us not seek to impress, but to express. We are to resist seeking adulation and acclaim, and go forward with firm intent, seeking to invite others to participate in the life of Christ. We are to resist moralizing and condemning, and instead be willing to be present with and meet people where they are and accompany them.
Jesus invites us, will we follow? Just as in learning to walk, our beginning attempts more often than not ended with a thud and us sitting on the floor or ground looking up. Yet, we got up, and soon with practice, gained strength, balance, made corrections, then we began to gain confidence and the ability to move forward upright, step by wobbly step. So it is in the spiritual life. If we are not moving ahead we are falling behind.
Jesus help us to know you and your voice so we may follow the will of your Father. Grant us the courage to walk with you, that we may risk whatever the reaction of others may be as we offer your truth with love and mercy. Set a spark in our soul so that above all we begin, one step at a time, hand in hand with you and each other. Help us move forward and allow God to happen.
Photo: Day of installation as Lector with my classmates Pete and Hank. As was said to us while we were being installed: “Take this book of holy Scripture and be faithful in handing on the word of God, so that it may grow strong in the hearts of his people.” – from the Rites, Volume Two.
Francis, Pope. The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2014.