Saturday, October 22, 2016
MATTHEW 11 : 2-11
Matthew in the Margins…3rd Sunday in Advent…Revised 2016
Josephus puts the Baptiser’s imprisonment down to Herod's fear his influence over people could lead to rebellion, rather than his fulminating against Herod's marriage.1 Would we had that kind of influence! Or would that simply make us vulnerable as John is? As Jesus Himself becomes? Does John muse: “Jesus, if you're whom You were revealed to me as when I baptised you, what am I doing in prison here? Why don’t you get me out!”? What about when the One Who Has Come doesn't seem to be taking up our cause either? If we’re imprisoned in darkness of some kind, what questions are we asking God as we hang in there? It’s no sin to wrestle with un-belief, but we need to ask the right questions. Lose faith in God and the bad news is that there’s no Good News!
Jesus’ answer to John builds on Isaiah [35: 5-6 & 26:19, cf. LK 4:18+]. Jesus often value-adds to what’s been said by Prophets of old. Now, it’s our turn to value-add. Build on what Jesus Himself says and does. Jesus doesn't talk much about mighty acts (signs); He brings them into being. Today God mostly works through gifted human beings to heal people. They may not acknowledge this, but they’re surely value-adding in their turn to free us from at least some of our ‘darknesses’.
Years ago a member of the congregation plucked up the courage to tell me how boring my sermons were! Not because he had to sit and listen to them! Because he couldn't hear them! C was totally deaf! He could pick up the ‘rhythm’, as he put it, of much of the Eucharist, but sermons were a black hole. So I undertook to give him printed sermon notes each Sunday. (When C later died, I was moved to say in the eulogy that I hoped this first sermon of mine he was hearing wasn't as bad as some of those other ones he didn't hear!) Preaching is just a black hole if people can't hear it. With their hearts, as well as their ears. Gospel needs to be heart stuff as well as head stuff if we’re to re-connect with those who need to be let out from their various ‘prisons’.
Strange as it may sound, there’ll also be times when we need to hear God pleading, “Let Me out of here!” from somewhere we’ve shut Him in. Coming even from the pages of the ‘Good Book’! Or, even, “Let me in” if we’re shutting Him out from some situation. In v.11 Jesus makes a cryptic comment about the Baptiser being the greatest human being up to that stage of history, but at this point, ‘little ones’ with their simple faith have it over John, who’s wavering. The Gospel of Thomas2 has Jesus saying, “Whoever among you becomes a child will recognize God's Rule and become greater than John”. This may make this a little clearer. Hopefully, John dies full of faith, but at this point he’s struggling as many of us do from time to time. Take heart! ’Little ones’ may struggle to get there, but get there they do. Get there we do if we’re one of them!
The list in v.5 is challenging. To recognize God’s rule in our lives, we all need to be helped to see, be cleansed, hear, be raised from the dead, be fed and clothed, cared for in some meaningful way. We’re not just some ‘client’ to be handed over to some agency. Only the God Jesus is in Person can set us free by loving us back to fullness of life. And He mainly does it through us and each other. Reeds, fancy dress shows, prophets and bending this way and that…congregations have them. Are there genuine, loving, freeing, healers in our church today? Can others discern us as one of them?
1 Antiquities, 18:5:2 2 46:2, Polebridge, 1992,