December 15, 2019 – by Rita Rodríguez
“The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers… They will see the glory of the LORD,” the prophet Isaiah tells us in today’s first reading. It is a beautiful image, but I can hardly imagine it.
When we speak of the desert, the first image that comes to mind for me is not flowers and lilies blooming, but what I see in photos and videos of immigrants trying to cross the southern border into the US. I do not see flowers in this desert, but people in great need, people held in detention centers, and the fallen who did not survive the harshness of the desert.
John the Baptist knew much about life in the desert. While in prison, we are told in this Sunday’s Gospel, he told two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” In Isaiah’s words, this question to Jesus might be, “Are you the one who will let us see the desert bloom?” Echoing Isaiah, Jesus responds to John: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” In other words, Jesus responds that Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled in him and states surprisingly that some will be disappointed by his response.
We have an advantage that John the Baptist did not: We know that Jesus is the resurrected Christ and our savior. We know that Jesus is the Messiah that God had promised. This is our faith. But, have we let God open our eyes and ears to see the possibility of the desert covered in flowers? Am I helping those who are not able to walk alone? Am I living a new life in the love of God for those who are dying of sadness and abandonment, and the poor who are enduring many needs? Am I helping and advocating for the human rights of immigrants arriving in our country and those people suffering here because they are undocumented? If I do, I will be helping the desert to bloom not only for these people, but for the whole world — the presence of God alive in the world. And when others see me living this way, they will see a disciple of Jesus who is not disappointed by him, and who, like Jesus, is working to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah that the whole world will see the glory of God.
“Be strong, do not fear!” the prophet tells us.
Rita M. Rodríguez lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a spiritual director and helps coordinate the Hispanic ministry at the Jesuit Parish of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
This reflection was translated from Spanish.