WHAT WE HAVE HEARD AND SEEN
John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” Jesus answered, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and blessed is the one who takes no offence at me.”
If you were God, what would you do about evil people: drug barons and drug pushers, those who carry out violent crimes and attack people in their homes, those who seriously damage the country’s economy through greed and recklessness, those who cheat people of their life’s earnings? You might decide to warn them a number of times and let them know what will happen if they do not change their ways and make amends. You might give them one last dire warning. Then you might take firm action and stop them by force. This would be a reasonable thing to do, and it is what John the Baptist thought the Messiah would do when he came. John warned, ‘His winnowing fan is in his hand: he will clear the threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn; but the chaff will burn in a fire that will never go out.’
When Jesus came to be baptised in the river Jordan, John recognised him as the Messiah. In this gospel John was at the final stage of his life: he was in prison. His followers brought him news about Jesus. Jesus was not destroying the wicked; there was no winnowing fan in his hand. John was puzzled and wondered if he had been mistaken. So he sent messengers to ask him, ‘Are you the one or must we look for someone else?’ Jesus did not say yes or no, but told them to tell John what he was doing. He was curing the blind and the deaf; he was raising the dead to life. He was preaching to the poor the good news of his Father’s love and his Father’s rule. Jesus knew that this account of what he was doing would remind John of prophesies of Isaiah who said that this is what the Messiah would do. He promised John that he would be blessed if he did not take offence because Jesus was acting in a way he did not expect.
In Mountjoy Jail
In the light of the many problems in our world today, we might ask the Lord the question John asked ‘Are you the one who is to come or must we look for someone else?’ The Lord might answer by drawing our attention to things that we hear and see that show he is indeed at work in our world, and that assure us that we do not need to look for someone else.
John Lonergan retired after forty-two years in the prison service; he was governor of Mountjoy Prison for twenty-two of these. He was a young prisoner officer in Limerick Jail in 1969 when a new governor was appointed. John remembers one change the new governor made: he removed the Stork margarine from the prisoners’ daily diet and gave them butter. This was a symbol for John which confirmed his own approach to prisoners: kindness and humanity are more effective than harshness. He said that in all his years, this practice never failed him. On the day he retired he said that he accepted that prison was a tough and cruel place but hoped he would be remembered for taking a genuine interest in prisoners and for running a fair and just regime.
Some took offense at him. When a new kitchen was built in Mountjoy, he invited the then minister for justice to officially open it. The minister declined the invitation saying that the public would be angry and claim that the jail was being turned into a hotel. May we not recognise the way of the Lord in John Lonergan’s way?
In his hands are the depths of the earth
The Lord might remind us of what we heard and saw in the rescue of the thirty-three miners in Chile. The miners and their families are poor people: the best of science and technology from many parts of the world was put at their service. A large number of workers and engineers bore the shaft, made the capsule and brought each miner to safety. (It was a joy for us in Ireland to discover that the drill which first broke through to the miners was designed and made in an industrial estate in Shannon).
Throughout the weeks there was prayer. The miners prayed and their families prayed. From beginning to end there was acknowledgment of God: hope and trust in God in the days of waiting, thanksgiving to God when all thirty-three were brought safely to the surface. The word ‘miracle’ was frequently used. A letter writer in one of our papers called the rescue ‘a major miner miracle.’
Prayer: Psalm 95
Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord.
A mighty God is the Lord,
a great king above all gods.
In his hands are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his.
To him belongs the sea, for he made it
and the dry land shaped by his hands.
Icons of Jesus and John the Baptist are from the Siena Monastery, Drogheda, Ireland.