The Choice Between Immoral and Not Normal

By Marc Massery

Sunday, Dec. 3, Second Sunday of Advent
•Is 40:1-5, 9-11
•Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
•2 Pt 3:8-14
•Mk 1:1-8

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, the entire countryside of Judea goes out to meet one of the most remarkable men in all of Scripture: John the Baptist. Every Advent, we spend some time with this cousin and forerunner of Jesus Christ. He reminds us that following God tends to lead us to live woefully different lives than the rest of society. 

Dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, subsisting on locusts and wild honey, John’s strange appearance and behavior are indicative of his strange summons. He calls all his Jewish brothers and sisters to enter into a ritual that only Gentiles converting to Judaism were historically required to complete: Baptism. Sure, Jews followed strict rules of washing and ritual cleanliness. But typically, no one born a Jew was ever required to be Baptized. 

Scripture scholar William Barclay explained it this way:

John had made the tremendous discovery that to be a Jew in the racial sense was not to be a member of God’s chosen people; a Jew might be in exactly the same position as a Gentile; not the Jewish life, but the cleansed life belonged to God.

Jews had not previously seen the need for Baptism because they had believed that their Jewish ancestry justified them before God. John opened his people’s eyes to realizing that righteousness was more than a birthright and involved more than following the rules of ritual cleanliness. John’s Baptism included the confession of sins, conversion, and a determination to live a life free from sin. John's Baptism encouraged rightousness. 

Righteousness doesn’t mean never making a mistake. It means recognizing when you have sinned, turning back to God, and trying better next time. That’s how John prepared the way for the coming of Christ, whose redemptive act justifies all who turn from sin and give their lives to Him.

Anyone who doesn’t discern their own imperfections, anyone who rejects the idea that they could be guilty of sinning will inevitably find ways to mentally justify their own immorality. Like the ancient Jews who justified their own immorality by their ancestry, many of us today perform similar mental summersaults. I once heard someone say to me, “I don’t have to go to Mass. My grandmother goes more than enough for my entire family.” Some justifications for sin are even more subtle. Another told me, “I don’t have to follow that particular teaching of the Church, because my pastor told me that God doesn’t really care about that sin.” 

If we truly want to follow John’s example and teaching, we need to make the truth, about ourselves and about God, our top priority. Perhaps cutting a certain sin out of your life would change everything. Perhaps it would endanger a relationship you hold dear. Though the Gospel doesn’t cost any money, it can be costly. John gave up a normal life in society to do God’s will. God is calling you to give up a “normal” life, too. In other words, He’s calling you to reject sin, even those our culture has deemed socially acceptable. 

But that’s not the end of the story. God also promises that when we strive to give our lives completely over to Him, He will give us the grace we need to live peaceful, enriching lives. This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer. It does, however, mean that God will direct our steps and give us the unfailing strength to persevere through any trial — to trust in Him and have hope for a better life, even if our lives end up looking different than what the world prescribes as “normal.”



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