For thousands of years, the people of Israel waited for someone to save them. Through the prophets, God taught His people that He would send a man anointed with His Spirit to lead them to a freedom that would not end. That burning hope helped the Jewish people endure many hardships including wars, exile and the occupation of their land by foreigners. That hope was focused on the Messiah.
The word, “Messiah” means “anointed one”. In Israel, when someone was anointed with oil it was a symbol that he had been set apart for a special service to the community. Kings, priests and prophets were all consecrated by the use of holy oils. This anointing came to be connected with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Messiah would be one who was anointed with the Spirit of God to bring to the people the justice and peace that would be the hallmarks of God’s Kingdom.
We know that the Messiah was Jesus Christ. He was revealed to the world at His baptism in the Jordan River when the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and the heavens opened up. God then declared to the world, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus preached that God’s kingdom was at hand. Along the way, He healed the sick, expelled demons and raised the dead. The prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading proclaimed that miracles such as these would take place when the Messiah arrived to establish God’s kingdom. And so, it was clear to anyone who witnessed Him that Jesus had an authority unlike any prophet who had come before Him. He was the Messiah they had hoped for.
John the Baptist was chosen and sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. He preached at the banks of the Jordan River calling the people to repent of their sins and to be baptized. It was shortly after Jesus’ baptism that John was imprisoned by King Herod. His time was quickly coming to an end. Yet he wanted to know from prison whether the One he had been preparing the way for had finally arrived. Was Jesus the Messiah?
What was Jesus’ response to the disciples John sent to Him? He simply recounted to them what they already had seen. The sick were being healed, the blind were being given their sight and the poor were having the good news preached to them. Jesus was the One Isaiah had foretold would come, and the One John had prepared the way for. He was the One who would bring an eternal Kingdom. By dying on the cross and rising from the dead, He would win the ultimate victory by conquering death itself.
Over two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, many in our world still await a Messiah. They want someone who will come and save them. They are imprisoned in ignorance, in abusive situations, in poverty or in their own sinful choices. They are looking to us to answer this question for them: “Is Jesus the One we are waiting for? Is Jesus the One who can save us?”
How are we to answer them? What can we point to in our lives to show that God is at work in the world freeing us from sin, changing lives and bringing peace?
They are not searching just for intellectual arguments. They know that the world cannot offer them what they truly desire, but they are also not yet convinced that Jesus is the answer. They want to see how He has changed our lives. They want to see what difference a life lived in relationship with God makes. Will they be able to see that by looking at us?
Each of us through baptism and confirmation has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is the same Spirit which empowered Jesus to preach the good news to the poor and to perform miracles. It is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. Because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, Jesus can say in today’s gospel that the least in His kingdom is greater than John the Baptist. John the Baptist never understood that Jesus would die for his sins. He never read the New Testament. He never received the Eucharist as we do. And so, we have a power at work in our lives that even He could not understand.
Like the priests, prophets and kings of the Old Testament, we have received an anointing. It is now time for us to put that power of God to work in service of others so that the world can see for itself what difference a life lived for Jesus makes. Only by seeing our lives transformed by the peace which only God can give will the world come to know that Jesus alone provides the answers that the people of today are seeking.
Where do we begin? We begin right here and right now with the people around us. It is by showing kindness everyday to the people we bump into that the transformation can start. If I can hold a door open for someone or say a kind word to a teenager, then I will have an open heart for the beggar who asks me for change or the hitchhiker who needs a lift to the gas station. Our acts of mercy will leave people wondering what motivates us to be so kind. Through our goodness, they will come to know Jesus who is the source of all goodness. And knowing Him, they will have grasped the answer to the longing of their hearts.