Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11 2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s Gospel has John sending his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Having grown up with the story of Jesus, his birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection, we might wonder why anyone would ask whether Jesus was actually the promised savior, particularly John, since another Gospel says he actually recognized Jesus from the womb before either of them was even born… Yet here, John seems to be second-guessing himself. John must have thought things would be different. He had spoken of the ax lying at the root of the trees. He’d predicted a Messiah who would baptize with fire. He’d promised the violence of a winnowing fork to forcibly separate the chaff from the grain.
Now John was in prison, because Herod didn’t like that John had told him it was wrong to take his brother’s wife as his own.Prisons were different then, and John’s disciples were able to visit him, talk with him, and carry messages back and forth. It was still prison, though, and John would not be freed. His life would end quite soon in execution, a beheading that would be a culmination of all kinds of wrongs coming together horribly.
But at the time of our story, John is still alive, and Jesus is out there, talking. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing anything that will get John out of prison, and John might wonder if maybe he was somehow wrong about Jesus, if Jesus maybe wasn’t the Messiah he’d been expecting, the Messiah he’d promised to the people.
While I was working in the office yesterday to get this all down in words, organizing how the message might best come through my lips, the phone rang. The caller was not Lutheran, and not familiar with our congregation at all. The question which was the reason for the call is not important, but as we conversed, this person clearly stated an antipathy for the church today, not just Lutheran churches, but all of them.According to the caller, we’ve gone soft. We don’t preach the consequences of disbelief enough. In the caller’s belief, we’re more interested in numbers than in faith.Do we even have altar calls anymore, the caller wondered…
I mentioned the many ways people might come to faith, and how requiring people to ask Jesus into their hearts made salvation up to us asking, when salvation is actually a gracious gift from God, but the caller would have none of it, and seemed all up in arms about how the church was failing because We’re not doing things right.
I believe John had the same questions about Jesus, thinking Jesus wasn’t doing things right, but Jesus pointed to Isaiah, and the ways Isaiah’s predictions were being realized.
Jesus pointed to individuals, and big miracles among rather few people. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them,” he said. Yet, John knew and we know that not every blind person is given the gift of sight, not every ear can hear, not every joint moves freely, and not every limp disappears.
Does this mean that we must wait for another, because not every malady is cured among us?
Our country is at odds with itself today.Many of our elected officials have pulled so extensively to the extremes of their parties that partisanship seems to have overcome logic, loyalty overshadows truth, and listening—really listening—to one another is no longer a recognized practice. Many people of faith claim that we are in the end times, as they point either to the current or to the most recent former president of our country as the antichrist personified.
“Are we to wait for another?” That’s the question John asked through his disciples.The problem is that waiting is exactly what many are doing—and that’s all they’re doing. They’re either waiting for one party to step up or for the other one to get out of the way. They’re waiting for someone to fix the healthcare system so that it works.They’re waiting for someone else to come and clear the snow from the sidewalks! They’re waiting for someone to entertain them, to please them, to find them, or maybe to love them…
John heard what was going on with Jesus, and he didn’t see fire, or a winnowing fork, or any of the majestic signs he was expecting. So he thought maybe he’d been misled… He thought nothing was happening.
But things were happening: Eyes and ears were opened, diseases were healed, hearts were turned. It’s a little bit here and a little bit there and when we share these little bits all over the world we find that great and majestic things are happening—if we can only recognize them! People are loved in ways that lead them out of addiction, out of extremism, out of destruction. People are comforted in dying, and others are given life and freedom they’d despaired of ever experiencing.
Are we to wait for another? No! Stop waiting, and start doing! Know that God is with us here, today, and always, and that God calls us to justice, to action, to peace! Be God’s presence, here and now, in Jesus’ name. Amen