Any teacher will tell you that among their least favorite questions from students is this: “Will this be on the test?” It certainly ranks as one of my least favorite. By the way, another one is like it. It is quite common for a student who is been absent for a day to ask the teacher this question: “did we do anything yesterday?” I was always tempted to say, “No. Since you weren’t here we all sat around and did nothing.” The reason the question about what will be on the test is so irritating to teachers, is that prepared teachers seek to do everything they can to integrate each day’s lessons with an overall assessment that is authentic. And so, to suggest the day is wasted and there will be no assessment of the material presented, is a statement, often not consciously realized, there are wasted days school. While this may be true, today’s reading reminds us that there are very important things we are called upon to do. And as Christian witnesses, the lessons we here will be on the test.
While we might not think of our Christian life is a test, today in the gospel we are reminded of the power of John’s preaching. Moreover, we are also challenged to see in the example of Jesus an invitation to live our lives in a particular way. While our good deeds do not earn us salvation,today’s gospel reading reminds us that there must always be an authentic connection of faith and works. In fact St. James tells us that faith without works is dead.
So what will be on the test? Today’s gospel provides us a clue, a study guide if you will. In asking the dangerous question, “what should we do?”, People open the door to be challenged to live in a new way. We are challenged not to have more than we need, giving away the extra cloak, sharing the surplus food, in general analyzing our lives to distinguish between what we want and what we need. We are challenged to live honestly, not cheating people. we are reminded that power is an invitation to service, not a mechanism of oppression.
Put simply, if we dare to ask the question what we are to do, we need to be ready to be challenged. This Advent provides a time of discernment for each of us to seek those areas of our lives where we need to become more like Jesus. We may not be tax collectors were soldiers, but we are those who seek to live the way of Christ, opening our hearts to a life of faith that demand much from us. And so what does God want you to do?
In the stark loneliness of an individual called Christ, we are reminded of two very important things. First we are reminded that while it is true that each of us answers this question out of the unique identity received our baptism, we do not do so alone. Just as the crowds went out here John the baptized are, we too are part of the crowds that seek to here Jesus by attending mass each Sunday. Second God not only challenges us, but gives us the grace to say yes to the call he is given to us. None of us answers the call simply on our own, but as a response to the generous grace God pours out to each person.
So what are we called to do? Perhaps it is an invitation for parents to more fully appreciate the gift of their children. Maybe this is the time for spouses to acknowledge the completeness that happens when two become one and sacramental marriage. Others might be challenged, such as students in school, to be honest in their endeavors seeking knowledge not simply the grade, but for the good it enables to occur in the lives of all. Children might be invited to recognize the many generous things done for them by their parents. Each of us might be called to recognize the profound wisdom that resides in those with lots of life experience, our senior citizens who bring us the benefits of lives well lived. And maybe senior citizens are called to recognize increasing amount of time given them to enter into a deeper life of prayer.
To be sure, the call of baptism is unique to each one of us, but the goal is the same. Each of us in our own unique way is called to a deeper relationship with Jesus. And indeed, for each one of us during this Advent season is the possibility of discovering something far more profound than we know today. In fact,we may be called to recognize that yet again, this Advent season as centuries and centuries before, God says to us once again, “See, I am doing something new.”