Monday, December 10, 2007

Third Sunday of Advent

This week's scriptures are Isaiah 35: 3-10 and Matthew 11: 2-15

You have to admire John the Baptist's courage in this story from Matthew...and Matthew's courage in including it his gospel. It's the place where this fierce, 'take no prisoner's' preacher is at his most human for us: this place where he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the One, or do we look for someone else?"

John is in prison. When he condemned Herod for having divorced his first wife so that he could marry Herodius, the wife of his brother (by the way, it's probable that Herod's brother Phillip was dead at the time) .... well that was just too much. Herod could deal with John being out there in the wilderness calling the common folk to repentence; and even going off on the scribes and Pharisees. But whenever you turn the call of judgement and the demand for repentance on the politically powerful you can expect them to respond forcefully (for a modern example of this; look at the U.S. government's investigation of Alliance of Baptists for traveling to Cuba).

I don't think that John the Baptist had any illusions about what was going to happen to him. Sooner or later Herod was going to get around to having him killed. And he's getting news of what Jesus is doing. Here are some of the things that, according to Matthew's gospel, John might have heard about that caused him to think about this:

Jesus'teaching is different from his own 'get tough' approach; Jesus touches a leper and heals him; Jesus also heals the servant of a Roman centurion and a demoniac in the country of the Gadarenes-so upsettings the economic life there that they beg him to leave; and finally, Jesus socializes with tax collectors and sinners, claiming that "It isn't the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. These are the very people (some of them) that John had called a "brood of vipers".

What's it like to come to the place where you can see the end of your life, and wonder whether you were right about where you committed energy-your very being? John is going to die. He knows he's going to die. He's going to die specifically because of his commitment to a vision of the Messiah, and he's wondering about whether Jesus is who he thought he was.

We're going to talk about Jesus' answer on Sunday. And sooner or later, we're going to look at each of the situations described above that might have given John reason to ask his question.

But for right now, I want to stay with the fact that even this giant of faith had to stop and ask himself whether his life had been spent for the right One; had been dedicated to the right vision. It is not a lack of faith that calls us to ask that question; it is wisdom, and a desire to know that the One we follow and the vision we've committed ourself to is worth living and dying for. The tragedy is when we don't ask the question.

See you Sunday.



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