Arise, My Friend, and Come
Both John the Baptist and Jesus were especially allergic to the presence of hypocrisy. We might then find it valuable for us to think about this in this Third Week of Advent?
The Oxford English Dictionary at “hypocrisy” (early 13th century noun) – “The assuming of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, with dissimulation [i.e., “to conceal or disguise”] of real character or inclinations, esp. in respect of religious life or beliefs; hence in general sense, dissimulation, pretense [i.e., “assertion of something knowingly false in order to deceive”], sham [i.e., “a trick, a hoax, or a fraud”]. Also, an instance of this.”
In the Gospel chosen for the First Sunday of Advent (Matthew 24:37-44), the theme was “Stay awake! …. It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep…. For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” In the Gospel chosen for the Second Sunday of Advent (Matthew 3:1-12), our focus was directed to John the Baptist and his responsibility to awaken people from their spiritual dullness and for the sake of a new and felt hopefulness – “Repent (dullness), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (hopefulness)!” But the repentance particularly highlighted by John that day concerned the presence at the Jordan River of the professional hypocrites (“many of the Pharisees and Sadducees”) – “You brood of vipers! … Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” And now today, the Gospel for this Third Sunday of Advent (Matthew 11:2-11), Jesus speaks openly of John the Baptist who has been jailed, by a notoriously dangerous hypocrite, and who soon will be murdered – “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.” In other words, Jesus is saying that John was the most real person that He had ever met, a man completely free of pretense, of sham, of dissimulation. John the Baptist was “the real deal”, as my Grandpa Frohoff (1927-1984) liked to say of someone whom he held in highest esteem.”
Hypocrites, and we are everywhere, sin against reality – they are less real, and find it useful to remain that way. And because they are, their inherent instability of personality will compel them to fight (“to compel” and “compulsion” go together), and even kill or cancel others, to preserve their own pretense and dissimulation rather than to hear “Repent! The Kingdom of God is here” and then to begin to take the hard journey into reality, to the new life of grace and truth.
And so, the photograph above of the cactuses blooming in the desert.
How is it that something so defended – literally bristling with thorns – can have hidden within it a glorious loveliness? We normally conclude (unless we are Flannery O’Connor) that an “ugly” exterior is an outward sign of an ugly interior. Yet, not so with cactuses.
Cactuses are like human beings; they have two ways of living. One way of life is lived fully defended, tough, delivering a message to any who come near, “Stay back! Do not come any closer!” The other way of life is lived with the beauty within openly expressing itself – those flowers! – announcing to any who come near, “Come and see! I am beautiful! I caught you by surprise, didn’t I?”
But here is the surprise. To be a human being as John the Baptist and Jesus were, both aspects, expressed with balance and elegance, are necessary: being tough and vulnerable; being dangerous and courteous; being fierce and playful. In this second way of being a cactus-self, the thorns and external toughness of skin remain, but now we understand the preciousness, the tenderness, and the beauty that it protects … and allows to emerge!
John the Baptist and Jesus both felt such alarm about the effect professional (religious) hypocrites had on people. Why? Because a hypocritical personality – his or her “way” of being a human being – guarantees that the people entrusted to them to lead will never, should never, let their inner beauty be seen by him or her. This is why Religions, unless they are wise and careful, will regularly misread “their people” and make assumptions about who they are. They are “reading” the cactus-selves of their people who dwell in a long and waterless waste, their flowers tightly held within them.
What a joy and profound relief to the people (to us!) when they heard that “voice crying out in the wilderness”, and when later they heard Jesus’ voice and watched how He lived among us, who spoke with authority and not like the Scribes! Oh, that sound; that voice! Finally!
Song of Songs 2:
10 My lover speaks and says to me,
“Arise, my friend, my beautiful one,
11 For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my friend, my beautiful one,
and come! 
An Advent Text: Isaiah 35:1-6
I have been working my way through a book by Margaret Barker, the British Methodist preacher and outstanding biblical scholar, called Christmas: The Original Story (2008). In it she notes that those who knew Jesus personally or through report knew that the Book of the Prophet Isaiah was the text within which He most often found what He needed. Perhaps this Advent prophecy from Isaiah helps us understand why Jesus revered Isaiah as He apparently did, this prophecy about which the distinguished biblical scholar J. Alec Motyer wrote, “it is one of the most beautiful poems ever written.”
1 The wilderness and the parched land will exult;
the Arabah will rejoice and bloom;a
2 Like the crocus it shall bloom abundantly,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.b
3 Strengthen hands that are feeble,
make firm knees that are weak,c
4 Say to the fearful of heart:
Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.d
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall see,
and the ears of the deaf be opened;e
6 Then the lame shall leap like a stag,
and the mute tongue sing for joy.
For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the Arabah.f
7 The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals crouch
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.
8 A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
but it will be for his people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray on it.g
9 No lion shall be there,
nor any beast of prey approach,
nor be found.
But there the redeemed shall walk,h
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning flee away.i 
We have here a breath-taking evocation of a desert, unimaginably barren and dry, a place dangerous to any human being desiring to cross it and populated with flesh-eating predators (“the abode where jackals crouch”). So easy to lose one’s way out there; so hostile to human beings who are 60% water; little match for a pack of jackals hunting them.
We are then made to see God’s despondent, worn down, unsure people walking on a road built along the top of a berm; the road sitting some feet above the surface of the desert – thus a “high” way. In other words, the “right way” is impossible to miss; easy to find; easy to see when looking for it. It is so obvious that “not even fools” (v 8) can miss it. Sometimes, all of us need easy.
But as they progress along that “high” way, the desert all around them, as far as they can see, “bursts forth” into life: flowers blooming; grass thickening, moving up into the breeze; the exultant sound of birdsong; animals everywhere, unafraid, and with plenty to eat and to drink. And even though they know that this is God’s doing, they are made to feel that it is all happening because of something within them; their presence walking together on that “high” way is transforming a dead place into a place of magnificent abundance. This image is so strong, so intensely beautiful, that we feel JOY (Latin, gaudeo, ēre, gavisus -a -um, 2), an inward, deeply felt, difficult to express joy.
Can you stay with this poem long enough to understand something of the joy that Jesus Himself felt kindle within Him as He read this; a poem that likely He had from memory?
This Third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday, because of this very kind of joy that we can by the Holy Spirit be given us to feel. Perhaps we are meant to feel something of what Mary felt as she carried within her the Child – a hidden joy, difficult for her to express … except by a birth. Her Little One is now so near; we can almost hear His voice.
Last week, Pope Francis I (elected Pope on 13 March 2013) in his weekly Angelus talk said:
Advent is a moment of grace to take off our masks [the Greek root in “hypocrisy” means “a mask” worn in a Drama] — every one of us has them — and line up with those who are humble, to be liberated from the presumption of the belief of being self-sufficient, to go to confess our sins, the hidden ones, and to welcome God’s pardon, to ask forgiveness from those whom we have offended. This is how to begin a new life. There is only one way, the way of humility — to be purified from the sense of superiority, from formalism and hypocrisy, to see ourselves, along with our brothers and sisters, as sinners, and to see Jesus as the Saviour who comes for us, not for the others, for us, just as we are, with our poverty, misery and failings, above all with our need to be raised up, forgiven and saved.
Pope Francis teaches us to perceive the “tone” of both John the Baptist and Jesus in their preaching: it was always about how to begin a new life. Lesser ministers will always come down hard on the sins of others, while being abstract and unconvincing as to why we need to wake up, that for which to wake up. Pope Francis has always been about demonstrating how to begin the new life and “giving evidence” that he is what he means He performs the “how”, as did John the Baptist and Jesus. Yet, this “way” has consistently made him the target of those who wish, nay who demand, that the Pope speak more often and with more force about how to hate, how to feel and to express disdain for, the old life and especially for those of us trapped inside it.
Our practice is given us in Pope Francis’ words above.
Find the performance of “Mary Did You Know?” by Jordan Smith, The Complete Season 9 Collection – The Voice Performance (2015). This beautiful Advent hymn links so compellingly the prophecy of Isaiah 35 and that gaudete-joy happening within Mary in the days before her giving birth. Of course, it does not have to be Jordan Smith’s performance; there are others that you may like too, or better than his.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “allergy” – “a. Originally: altered immunological reactivity to a foreign antigen following previous exposure to it.” Obviously, I am using “allergic” in a metaphorical way. However, it might be argued that the strong negative reaction both of these men had to hypocritical persons resulted in an “altered” body chemistry. Anger does have distinct and obvious physical effects on/in the body.
 These texts from the Bible are the ones to be read as indicated by the Catholic Lectionary.
 Hypocrisy is what human beings do; we always have. But I prefer to frame this failure of reality is us as a temptation that will always present itself to us who can imagine ourselves being other than we are. That very power of Imagination (one of the three powers of soul) can be “bent” (to use a favorite C.S. Lewis word for what sin does to a personality; an idea he has from St. Augustine – curvatus in se – “curved in on the self”). When used properly, Imagination is a bedrock of the divine gift of HOPE; when used improperly, we use it to hide from reality – that infamous false self that many a mystic has said only our death will finally kill.
 Wikipedia – “A cactus (pl. cacti, cactuses, or less commonly, cactus) is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, a family comprising about 127 genera with some 1750 known species of the order Caryophyllales. The word cactus derives, through Latin, from the Ancient Greek word κάκτος (káktos), a name originally used by Theophrastus for a spiny plant whose identity is now not certain. Cacti occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Although some species live in quite humid environments, most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought. Many live in extremely dry environments, even being found in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth. Because of this, cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. For example, almost all cacti are succulents, meaning they have thickened, fleshy parts adapted to store water.”
 See: http://www.margaretbarker.com – “Margaret Barker, D.D. has developed an approach to Biblical Studies now known as Temple Theology. Margaret Barker read theology at the University of Cambridge, England, and went on to pursue her research independently. She was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998, and edited the Society’s second Monograph Series, published by Ashgate. She has so far written 17 books, which form a sequence, later volumes building on her earlier conclusions.”
 Margaret Barker, D.D. – “In the synagogue at Nazareth, at the start of his public ministry, Jesus claimed that the words he had just read from Isaiah were being fulfilled at that very moment (Luke 4:21). The high proportion of allusions to Isaiah in the Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament could indicate that Jesus had quoted Isaiah more than any other prophet, and that the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies was remembered by the New Testament writers as especially important in his life. It had ‘unique prominence among the scriptural quotations in the Gospels, Paul and Acts …’. If there had been an Isaiah scroll in his home community—and synagogues did not have many costly scrolls apart from the Law—then Jesus would have known well the words of that prophet. [Margaret Barker, Christmas: The Original Story (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008), 16.]
 Arabah – “A biblical term variously used referring to all or portions of the Great Rift valley in Palestine, running from the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) in the N, through the Jordan Valley to the Dead Sea, and from there to the Gulf of Aqaba in the S. Along with the coastal plains, the Shephelah, the Negev, and the mountains, it is one of the principal geographical regions in Palestine (Josh 11:16). This region is a depression in the earth, for the most part below sea level, which provided a natural barrier and a border between Israel and her neighbors Ammon, Moab, and Edom to the E.” [David R. Seely, “Arabah (Place),” The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 321–322.]
a Is 41:18–19; 55:12–13.
b Is 40:5; 60:13.
c Is 40:29–30; Jb 4:3–4; Heb 12:12.
d Is 41:10; Zec 8:13.
e Is 29:18; 32:3.
f Is 32:3–4; 41:18; 43:19–20; 44:3; Mt 11:5.
g Is 11:16; 43:19; 49:11.
h Is 62:10; Lv 26:6.
i Is 51:11.
 See: https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body – “Water is of major importance to all living things; in some organisms, up to 90% of their body weight comes from water. Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. According to Mitchell and others (1945), the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “berm” – “a. A narrow space or ledge; esp. in Fortification a space of ground, from 3 to 8 feet wide, sometimes left between the ditch and the base of the parapet.”
 Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary – gaudĕo, gāvīsus, 2 (archaic perf. gavisi, Liv. Andron. and Cass. Hem. ap. Prisc. p. 868 P.), v. n. and a. [Gr. γαίω, rejoice, for γαϝιω; cf. gavisus; root γαυ-; γηθέω, γάνυμαι, etc.; cf. ἀγαυρός, proud, ἄγη, astonishment], to rejoice, be glad or joyful respecting anything, to take pleasure in, be pleased with, delight in (of inward joy, opposed to laetori, which means to show oneself glad, to exhibit joy for any to see).