October 15, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am continuing to take the good news today from Matthew 11:2-15.
When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me. “As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
It had been over 400 years since the last prophet Malachi had delivered God’s word to the Jews. Many now regarded John as a prophet. However, they believed that before the Messiah came, Elijah would come to them again. Even today when Jews celebrate the Passover they leave an empty chair for Elijah.
So, Jesus confirmed what his listeners were wondering — that John was indeed a prophet. Jesus had a revealing twist on the quote from Malachi: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” “Me” was God referring to himself and the messenger was Elijah. Jesus told them, “I am sending my messenger ahead of you,” which has God referring to Jesus as “you.” The messenger, of course, was John, the living embodiment of Elijah. I think that had I been among the crowd that day I would have been so focused on Jesus talking about John that his reference to himself as God would have gone over my head. My understanding of history and the scriptures, my expectations of what was to come would have prevented me from really hearing what Jesus revealed.
Even John had questions because he was so locked into his own expectation of God’s impending divine destruction. Jesus didn’t conform to John’s concept of the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one. This Jesus cured the blind and halt and deaf, cleansed lepers and raised the dead. He brought a message of the kingdom of God to the poor, giving them hope for relief. He did all of this with a spirit of love, of acceptance and forgiveness, of nonviolence toward his enemies. This isn’t what John expected. Jesus was correct in observing that the violent were taking the kingdom of God on earth by force. John and the rest of the Jews expected God and his Messiah to take vengeance on the violent, the powerful and put an end to the world.
Jesus told those listening to him that those who worked for the kingdom of God on earth were greater than the prophet John. These were all astounding things to tell people. He told them to open their ears so they can hear his message; open their minds to what God has in store for them, to what He wants from and for them.
Talking about faith the other evening, a friend said, “I just don’t get it.” He just couldn’t understand why anyone would believe in God, let alone Jesus. A Pew Research Center study released the other day reports that the percentage of Americans who “just don’t get it” is on the rise, albeit a small percentage — 6% but still that’s 13 million people. And one in five Americans have no religious affiliation with that increasing to nearly one in three among those born since 1990, which leads me to believe that the portion of agnostics and atheists will continue to rise in the years ahead. The percentage of people who don’t doubt the existence of God has declined from 88% to 80% in the last fifteen years.
Most of those that Jesus spoke to didn’t get it. Most of those who consider themselves Christians even today don’t get it. They don’t get the kingdom of God, the good news that Jesus preached. That’s why people like my friend don’t get it. He sees the violence, the discrimination, the hatred perpetrated in the name of religion and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.
So, I have to ask myself. Do I get it? Am I preparing the way of the Lord? Do I have ears that hear the word of God? Am I following the teachings of Jesus? Do I exude a sense of peace and joy that others notice and want for themselves? Am I a representative of the kingdom of God? Sometimes yes but sometimes no. It takes a conscious, concerted effort on my part to hear with new ears and see with new eyes, to overcome my unconscious attitudes and deeply rooted expectations. I’m trying but I pray to Jesus for both his help and his patience.