Putting people in boxes
3rd Sunday of Advent

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

When a father confronts his adolescent son over something bad that he did and he answers back justifying his conduct, the father may respond, "Who do you think you are that you speak to me like that?" From this way of talking, the father wants his son to know who the boss is. But though true, it turns his son off. Before long he will spend more time with his peers because "My parents do not understand me."

How different would the outcome have been if the father gets out of his "authority box" and instead asks himself, "What can I learn from what he says?" This may make him change his approach to his son. Then he will understand better what his son is going through as an adolescent. It will also keep the line of communication between them open. Thus, when his son will have a serious problem later, he will not hesitate to come to and confide in his father.

The gospel reading (Jo. 1:6-8,19-28) is concerned with the question "Who?" Priests and Levites asked John the Baptist who he was. John knew that at the back of their minds they wanted to know whether he was "the one who is to come" or not. So John responded: "I am not the Messiah." But they did not stop there. Going back to the tradition that the Prophet Elijah would return as the herald of the Messiah, they asked him if he was Elijah. John answered "No!" Later, the Pharisees joined in and asked, "What do you have to say for yourself?" John told them: "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as Isaiah the prophet said."

It is not difficult to figure out what the questioners had in mind: to "box" John as a "nobody" despite his claim that God missioned him "to testify to the light." They reasoned that if they told people that he was not any of those they asked him about, then they would stop following him.

The problem with John's questioners was that they stuck to their "boxing" of him as a "nobody." Thus instead of listening to what he was saying as God's messenger, they completely ignored him and his message. No wonder that when Jesus finally came to John to be baptized in the river Jordan and John pointed Him out to the people as the Messiah, they did not accept Him.

Are we not often guilty of the same? For example, how often have we "boxed" someone as "good for nothing" and thus refuse to appreciate anything he says or does? After a while, he himself will believe that he is good for nothing. He then stops trying to develop his God-given potentials. Very likely, a sad future awaits him.

How different is the lesson we can learn from the responses of John to his questioners. John gloried in playing second fiddle to the One "who is to come" whose sandal strap he was not even "worthy to untie." In short, he refused to be "boxed" in the way his questioners wanted. Instead he had himself "boxed" in the way God wanted him to, namely, "to testify to the light." And he succeeded in this in an exemplary degree for after pointing Jesus out as "the one who is to come," many of his own disciples began to follow Jesus. To John's great delight.

There is thus an upside to being boxed. First if we refused to be boxed as people wanted and second, if we "box" ourselves and others in a positive way.

A story is told of a priest assigned in a seminary who took his sabbatical year in Calcutta, India to work with Mother Theresa. Towards the end of his sabbatical, he wondered what he could take back to his seminarians. Thinking back, he remembered how Mother Theresa received Communion: her eyes and face glowed with love for Jesus as she expressed the desire to give Him back her love completely. For the priest, that was understandable for she was then already known as "a living saint." But what he could not understand was what he saw one evening when she was with a sick person. The same glow in her eyes and face was present when she was attending to him.

Reflecting on these two experiences, the priest discovered why. For Mother Theresa, that sick person was Jesus Himself for did He not say: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you did unto me?" That was how she "boxed" all the sick who came to her. Thus she cared for them as she would for Jesus and in the process "testified to the light."

We may be rich or poor, powerful or insignificant, well educated or unlettered, healthy or sickly, etc. Regardless, as Christians, we can "box" ourselves in the same way as John did: "to testify to the light" -- not only in words but also in deeds. And this we can be and do specially if we carry out Jesus' commandment of love in all that we do.

Isn't this one good way to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Jesus' birthday come Christmas day?