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Breath of the Spirit: John in Prison: Trusting God’s Message When We Struggle to Hear God’s Voice

Gaudete Sunday implores us to “rejoice!” But what if you are in a place where rejoicing is impossible? How do we trust God’s message when we can’t hear God’s voice? This week’s reflection examines the story of John the Baptist in prison to draw forth a possible answer to these questions. It encourages us to feel however we need during this holiday season – because Love is with us wherever we are and however we feel.


Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

1st Reading – Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10

Psalm – Psalms 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10

2nd Reading – James 5:7-10

Gospel – Matthew 11:2-11


John in Prison: Trusting God’s Message When We Struggle to Hear God’s Voice

 A reflection by Darby DeJarnette

This Sunday’s gospel tells the story of John the Baptist in prison, and of his disbelief that the very Messiah whose appearance he had predicted was among his followers and disciples. I wonder what it must have felt like to be John when he received Jesus’ reply? “Tell John about the miracles you’ve seen” (Mt 11:4). Jesus praises John as the greatest among humans, yet John, due to his imprisonment, did not hear these words from the mouth of the Messiah.

We spend so much time in prisons of our own. Whether chosen or unchosen, the map of suffering that leads us down the roads of our lives can blind us to how God feels about us. All we can see is our own confinement, our own lostness. Jesus is speaking to his followers when he says, “there has been none greater than John the Baptist…” (Mt 11:11). He proclaimed John’s holiness at a time when John couldn’t hear those words in person. We often can’t hear God’s voice when we’re struggling. We can only hear our own negativity, or the voices of those around us who have caused us harm. It’s hard to believe that God loves us when we are hurting here and now. The holidays, especially, can be a bittersweet time for LGBTQIA+ people. There can be painful reminders of the things we’ve lost, or of the negative experiences we’ve had.

One thing that sticks out about Jesus’ report back to John is the emphasis on healing. Physical healing can be deeply profound and necessary, especially for those who have chronic illnesses or disabilities which impact their day-to-day life. That’s not all there is to it, though. Jesus follows his statement about John with another: “…the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt 11:11). Jesus speaks this to us and about us. Like John, we cannot always hear it for ourselves. Like John, we are a part of the kindom of God’s Love, whether we can believe it or not. Nothing—not depression or abuse or trauma or loneliness—will change that fact.

I think this is what Jesus was saying when he spoke about John and the stature of the “least of these.” The physical realm is important because it points us towards God. John the Baptist was an important signpost in this physical realm. We are important signposts – pointing others toward the Reign of God. It doesn’t matter if, in this life, we are a “reed swayed by the wind” or “someone dressed in fine clothing” or even a prophet. Our true glory and our true healing are grounded in the Love that God has for us, no matter how the world sees us or how we see ourselves.

This Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday because our entrance antiphon tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Isn’t it nice that we are absolved of having to have certainty about our worth? While we are encouraged to rejoice, we are freed from the prison of having to feel any certain way about ourselves or about God. This Advent, let yourself feel whatever you need to feel! We may not always believe in, or hear about, our own holiness, but Jesus will always proclaim it – to us and for all the world to hear!


Darby DeJarnette is the Manager of Operations and Missions Services at DignityUSA. She has been involved in marketing and public relations writing for most of her professional career and has had several poems published in small press anthologies. Darby is also a staff writer at a local D.C. performing arts publication. She has had over one hundred articles published under her byline to date and hopes to continue to add to that number.  

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