"But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
John the Baptist’s preaching was very different from that of Jesus. You could summarise it as “Repent and believe the bad news.” Cyril of Alexandria (376 AD to 444) described it as “deadening the passions of the body through very hardy training,” and contrasted it the teaching of Jesus, which he said was “without reliance on strenuous ascetic labours.” There were many people who listened neither to one nor the other. “They accepted neither the gloominess of John the Baptist,” said Cyril, nor the freedom of Christ.” But others took a more positive view: Theodore of Mopsuestia (392 AD – 428) looked at the positive side: “Those who were looking for the truth… accepted the leadership of John and of Christ. It changed their lives.”
No doubt it has always been like this. We hear what we want to hear, and we turn a deaf ear to everything else. In Irish this is called bodhaire Uí Laoghaire, ‘O Leary’s deafness’ – named I suppose after someone who distinguished himself in this way. There are many who suffer from this form of deafness; they include all of us some of the time and some of us all of the time.
Jesus compared his generation to sulky children who can't be pleased, no matter what you do for them. They don't know what they desire, or they have forgotten. Advent is a season for learning how to desire in a way that brings us into depth rather than into the shallows.
It was said of the population of ancient Rome that they were interested only in “bread and circuses.” In different degrees it is true of every person. We need bread to kill the real ache in the stomach; we want circuses to set up a fictional ache in the heart. We have to study our fictional needs, watching them closely at the very moment they arise, seeking always to understand them and so to be free of them. Clinging and craving have nothing to do with love, except in the sense that all suffering can lead us to learn something about love.
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