THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Be content but be aware of one's limitation of knowledge
Some things can be accomplished, others cannot
First Reading (Zeph 3: 14-18): The Lord sings with joy over the Israelites
Second Reading (Phil 4: 4-7): Rely on the Lord with a joyful heart
Gospel (Lk 10 –18): At Baptism we should change our lives
-“Be content and be aware of one's limitations of knowledge. There are things that can be accomplished and things that cannot. Only those who have the ability to refuse, have the ability to accomplish.”(1)
-“Riches and honor begotten from ill-gotten gains are like passing clouds to me” (2)
-“Knowing it cannot be done yet doing it.”(3)
-“Discover what is good and hold fast to it.”(4)
“The crowds asked him, 'What then should we do?' In reply he said to them, 'Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.' Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, 'Teacher, what should we do?' He said to them, 'Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.' Soldiers also asked him, 'And we, what should we do?' He said to them, 'Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.' ”(Lk 3: 10-14)
“What then should we do?” This was the first question the crowds asked after they had heard John the Baptist's words. They were willing to believe, willing to change, even willing to accept baptism as a symbol of a renewed life. They clearly knew that if they accepted John's baptism, they also must accept the conditions it entailed, which were a faith shown by deeds and a transformed life. Therefore the crowds had to first know 'what they must do' to abide by the demands of baptism.
John emphasized with them that they must “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” To change was not just to have a pious desire, it also had to be shown by actions. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lk 3:9).
We ordinarily say people are 'believers' or that 'they have faith,' or that they 'become members of a certain religion.' These phrases easily lead to misunderstanding if we think that the core of faith is simply a matter of the intellect and mind and that is all there is to 'faith.' Actually, if we would call people who become believers 'living disciples' (or as Buddhists say 'those who act') the emphasis would be on 'living out' one's faith. Then we could avoid many concepts that result in separating faith and life.
In the Church we have what we call 'communion' or 'unity of persons.' This communion or unity really has three levels. The most basic and important level is a communion of love, then there is a communion of faith. Finally, there is unity of structures and rules.
Christ told us that at the Final Judgment the criteria for faith and salvation will be encompassed in one word only, 'love.' In 1 John, the author says, “Where there is love, there is God; where there is God, there is love.” (1 Jn 4: 7-21) There is a popular hymn in the Church in which we sing, ‘Where there is mercy, there is love; where there is love, God is surely present.’ It comes from an ancient Latin hymn ‘Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.’
That is actually the kind of faith John the Baptist had in his heart: a faith that showed itself in deeds, in a life of love, justice and righteousness, and in sharing with others to show one's faith. In the process of putting this way of life into practice, John raised both contradictions and principles: “Be content yet be aware of one's limitations of knowledge. There are things that can be accomplished but also things that cannot be accomplished.”(1)
'Be aware of one's limitations of knowledge.' One must fill oneself with knowledge, ask questions, study and search. For example the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John, 'Who are you?' Or another example might be when the crowds asked, 'What are we to do?'
'Be content.' Therefore we must appreciate and enjoy all that we have, and not crave for what we cannot have. 'Be content with the food that you have.'
'There are things that can be accomplished.' One must share one's possessions with others: “If you have two coats, share with those who have none; whoever has food must do likewise.”
“There are also things that cannot be accomplished.” The tax-collectors must not collect more than the amount prescribed and soldiers should not blackmail or extort money from others.
Actually these contradictions and principles explain and support each other. Only those who are content realize their limitations. Only those who lack something know that they have enough. Only those who have accomplished something know that there are things they have not accomplished. Only those who know there are things they have not yet accomplished can accomplish them. That is what Mencius meant by saying, 'Only those who have the ability to refuse, have the ability to accomplish.'(1)
Throughout life, when we are faced with issues of absolute right and wrong, we should hold fast to our principles about what we should not do, what we will not do and what we disdain to do. Confucius’ words exemplify this: “Riches and honour begotten from ill-gotten gain are like passing clouds to me.”(2) Though everyone pursued wealth and honour, if they could only be obtained in ill-gotten ways Confucius preferred to give them up. He would view the ill-gotten riches as passing clouds and smoke.
Likewise, only those who have the courage to refuse, have the courage to do what should be done. That is why even when faced with hardships and difficulties, Confucius bore responsibility with courage, knowing it could not be done yet doing it.” (3) That is what the “Doctrine of the Mean” meant by “Discover what is good and hold fast to it.”(4) When Confucius was positive it was something that must be done, he would persist to the end. Even though he knew it could not be done, he would try hard to do it.
Let us then prepare ourselves with all our hearts to receive Christ when he comes again. Let us be content with what we have, aware of our limitations, accomplish what we can and forego what we cannot.