John and Our Longing for Truth

 Second Sunday of Advent. December 4, 2016. Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

john-the-baptist-2Why did many people come to John the Baptist and listen to him? I believe that the Jewish people hungered for the truth. It might be an inconvenient and hurtful truth, but they longed to hear it.   They were tired of listening to their leaders, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who were not honest but were living in hypocrisy. They were exhausted by numerous religious obligations but did not find any inspiration and a good example from their leaders. John came and preached to them the truth with simplicity and integrity, and the Israelites knew that they had to hear him.

Despite the various advancements in our lives, our society is experiencing also the same hunger for truth. We spend years in schools and we learn a different kind of knowledge and various skills needed to survive the demands of our society, but we fail to discover the truth in our midst. After the presidential election in the US, many experts lamented how social media, especially the internet, has opened the floodgate of lies, hoaxes, and fake, perverted news. In Indonesia, especially Jakarta, the situation is not much different. The election of Jakarta’s governor as well as the case of a Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an out-going governor involved in blasphemy row, have thrown the nation into deeper fragmentations. In the Philippines, various issues from the war on drug that kills thousands, to former president Ferdinand Marcos’ burial, have divided the nation. Various groups have disseminated myriads of news and reports to support their cause and destroy other opposing groups. People have become more and more confused and distracted, not knowing what the truth is.

In this chaos of overloaded information, Hossein Derakhshan, a researcher from MIT, has predicted that our society will become deeply fragmented, driven by emotions, and radicalized by a lack of contact and challenge from the outside. In short, we will make our decisions based on feelings instead of truth. This will create even more confusion despite instant pleasures here and there. All these will lead eventually to despair and profound unhappiness. Yet, deep inside we long for the truth because we are created for truth and have an innate capacity to seek for the truth.

In the midst of this deluge of information, we are called to be John the Baptist, the preacher of truth. Yet, before we proclaim the truth and go against the tide of news, we have to be rooted in prayer and study. John was spending his time in the desert, and in this deserted place, he could train his mind and heart to discern the truth. Some days ago, I delivered a talk on the death penalty in the Bible. Some fundamentalist Bible interpreters can easily lift some verses and justify the capital punishment. This is an easy and instant answer, but it is simplistic. I need to spend hours in research and study just to understand the truth that in the Scriptures, God does not wish the death of sinners in the first place.

Advent becomes a proper time for us to follow the footsteps of St. John the Baptist. We are called to train ourselves to listen to the truth, and preach it with confidence.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP


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