Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent.
In the Gospel selection we have from St. Matthew today, we encounter Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, baptizing people in the Jordan River as the people acknowledged their sins.
As he was baptizing people, some Pharisees and Sadducees came to him. Clearly, John was not a fan of either group, for he called them “a brood of vipers.” He then admonished by saying, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now, the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3: 7-10).
John especially targeted the Pharisees and Sadducees who thought they had it made in terms of salvation simply because they were descendants of Abraham.
Before looking at this Gospel selection more closely, let’s look at a story by Willanne Ackerman called “Two Brothers.”
Long ago and far away, there lived two brothers. In many ways, they were just like other young men of the area.
The brothers were very likable, but they were undisciplined, with a wild streak in them. Their mischievous behavior turned serious when they began stealing sheep from local sheep farmers. Stealing sheep was an especially serious crime where they lived, for it was in the heart of sheep country.
In time, the young thieves were caught. The local farmers decide that the punishment would be that each brother would be branded with an “S” and a “T” on his forehead to stand for “Sheep Thief.” This sign, they would carry for the rest of their lives.
One brother was so embarrassed by this that he ran away and was never heard from again.
The other brother, however, remained in his village. He was filled with remorse and made peace with his fate. He decided, therefore, to stay in the village and spend his life trying to make amends to those villagers whom he had harmed.
At first, the villagers were very skeptical of the young man’s efforts and wanted nothing to do with him.
The young man was determined, though, to live a remarkable new life. For example, whenever someone was sick in the community, he would come to care for that person with soup and a soft touch. Whenever there was some work to be done, the sheep thief would a helping hand. It didn’t matter who needed help, for the sheep thief always helped.
Many years went by, and now the sheep thief who remained in his village was an old man. One day, a traveler came through the village. Sitting at a sidewalk café eating lunch, the traveler could not help but notice the old man with the strange brand on his forehead. He also noted how all the villagers would stop to share a kind word with him, and that everyone who passed by him would stop and treat him with the greatest respect. Hi also say children would stop their play to run up to the old man to give him a hug and be hugged in return.
Curious, the stranger asked the café owner, “What does that ST brand on the old man’s head stand for?”
The café owner replied, “I don’t know. It happened so long ago, I don’t think anyone remembers.” Then, pausing briefly for a moment of reflection, he continued, “…but I think in his case, it stands for ‘Saint.’”
This is a very powerful story for it ties in so well with today’s Gospel. Here are just three things we can learn from today’s Gospel and the story of the repentant brother.
First, though John the Baptist was preaching to the Pharisees and Sadducees of his day, his message of repentance applies to us today as it did to those folks two thousand years ago.
Second, repentance is something all of are called to do. Repentance means being sorry for one’s faults and trying to make up for them. It is a turning one’s life around. Now there are some people who think they don’t need to repent, for they have no faults. I would advise such persons to begin by asking their spouses, children, brothers and sisters, coworkers, fellow students, and others close to them if they can think of any faults they may have that need correction. I think all would hear more than they want to hear, for even if we are blind to our faults, others are not.
And when we look at our faults, we must remember that much of our faults – in fact the majority for many – are acts of omission. That means we fail to do the good things for others that we should be doing. So, yes, it’s nice to not rob banks and blow up buildings, but it is also nice to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. In fact, that is a Christian commandment.
And third, there should be one and only one goal for each Catholic Christian – and that is to be a saint. All other life goals are secondary to our ultimate goal. The “Saint” in today’s story showed how he, indeed, understood this concept.
As we continue our life journey this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on the areas of our lives that we need to change.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Second Sunday of Advent, 2016.
Story source: Willanne Ackerman, “Two Brothers,” in Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and
Heather McNamara (Eds.), Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul, Backlist, LLC, 2012, pp. 319-320).