By Benedict Augustine
“Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking,
and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.”
When the Savior comes, we can expect Him to bring life and goodness to the world. He will enrich the poor, cure the sick, heal the wounded, and comfort those who mourn. He will restore the world and bring it to true fulfillment. Like famous Psalm states, He will fill our cup so that it “overflows,” “guide [us] in straight paths” to “verdant pastures” and “restful waters.” Although these images serve as pale reflections of the eternal joys that await God’s children, we should all remember what they signify: abundance, fullness, peace, and life.
Unfortunately, these good things that constitute true bliss are easy to disregard. Few things so typify contemporary life as our general cynicism towards everything that seems pervade all walks of life. So many of us, young or old, married or unmarried, rich or poor, educated or noneducated, all share in it. Weall have some mean thing to say, some criticism to share, or some dissatisfaction with something. Sarcasm and snark make up the substance of what we say and hear. In their literature and entertainment, all good things must certainly contain something nasty and perverted. We can pass off bare selfishness and vanity as virtues while modesty and innocence represent huge drawbacks.
Although we live in a time of so many blessings, we ironically dwell on what we perceive as curses. We somehow act as victims suffering some kind of oppression and persecution. People with great jobs, students at great schools, men and women with good health and loving families, citizens living in a peaceful tolerant society, can somehow fabricate narratives of their hardships. All the while, as people portray themselves as victims of oppression and unleash their worldly wise disdain for cheerful simpletons, the actual victims continue suffering in anonymity.
In ancient times, though most people had much more to complain about, this same self-centered attitude took over large swaths of them. They, too, had the same cynicism that looked down upon genuine joy and valorized self-pity. With the PaxRomana finally established by Augustus, communities of gentiles and Jews had a perfect opportunity to address the marginalized in their community. Free from the threat of outside invaders, they could have built hospitals, founded charities, and allowed people more freedom—like the Church would do a few centuries later. Instead, the Jewish zealots plot an unsuccessful rebellion against Rome, and the gentiles find more and more ways to exploit subjected cultures. No doubt, both Jews and gentiles saw themselves as victims responding to an injustice. It comes as no surprise then that they both somehow blame underground Christians for their own stupidity.
As this familiar cycle plays out, Jesus and the disciples make their way through the wilderness and small towns, curing the sick and giving sight to the blind. Neither Jesus, the Perfect Sacrifice, nor his disciples, who would eventually sacrifice themselves as martyrs, seem too concerned with winning people’s sympathy. They themselves sympathize for the victims before them and give aid. Rather than harboring cynicism, they display quixotic hope, faith, and charity.
Why did the Christians act this way when they had every reason not to do so? Because they saw God’s Son, and thus saw God. One could say that in seeing Him, they saw what was “right with the world.” The great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton takes this idea and applies it his own stuffy cynical world in the essay “The Medical Mistake.” Comparing society to a diseased body, he accuses all the cynics of pointing out the disease, some even embracing the disease mistaking it for a cure, yet none of agreeing on what a healthy body looks like. This leads him to the conclusion, “What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.”
Jesus restores what is right. His Church shall carry on this work. And all Her members shall do so joyfully, because they know what, or better who, is right. This is the joy of the gospel. This is the joy of Advent.