6th Sunday after Epiphany – February 12, 2017
Luke 7:18-35 and Psalm 146:5-10
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” What a question to ask Jesus just after He had just raised a widow’s only son from the dead. It should have explained everything. Or, perhaps this question “Are you the one who is to come” isn’t all that strange after all.
Pat Collins was positive that the Lord was opening the door to a new job. It was a job she really wanted. Her boss offered the position to a co-worker and his action devastated Pat. “What is the Holy Spirit doing and where is the Spirit leading me?” she asked.
After a couple of dates, Juanita and Miguel each thought that their relationship might have a future. Over the next several months, as they got to know each other better, they realised that their initial attraction to each other was fading.
John the Baptist had an expectation about the coming Messiah. He would be a strong political and religious figure. The Messiah would be someone who would overthrow the hated Roman government and establish God’s kingdom. Jesus was not who John thought He would be. Perhaps he was mistaken, he thought.
It is difficult to discern God’s leading and intentions. We often get it wrong and we are surprised by what God does. In the middle of our confusion, we can celebrate, however. The Lord continues to guide us, move in our world and, at times, astonish us.
Asking a question such as this, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” could come from various angles. It could even be a subconscious denial. It could be from disappointment that the Kingdom is not becoming clear in the terms that people were expecting it to happen.
“One evening, while in Paris,” Dennis Sanders describes, “I went to the Louvre. I was interested in seeing Leonardo daVinci’s famous Mona Lisa. This has to be the most well-known paintings in the world. It is talked about so much that you start to think this is a grand painting in size. So you enter the room where it is located. A crowd is gathered around it and it is the only painting that is encased in a plastic box to protect it from the masses.”
“If you were expecting a painting that might fill the gallery wall, your expectations would be dashed pretty quickly. It’s maybe a bit larger than the a regular size iPad. None of this takes away from its beauty. But the real thing is not always what we expect.”
Which is probably what John the Baptist was thinking according to today’s text. He’s sitting in jail and hearing from his disciples that Jesus is healing the servant of a Roman centurion and raising a widow’s son from the dead. Our faith is always about God and people.
This probably wasn’t what John was expecting. He was preaching about fires and threshing floor and separating wheat from chaff. John was hardcore, and he expected the One he was preparing the way for, was going to kick the Romans out and put those Pharisees in their place. In our terms, dear friends, Jesus would see to it that bad governments would not prevail.
But then the real Jesus shows up and it’s not what John the Baptist expected. So he asks Jesus that question, ”Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for someone else?” Jesus’ response is interesting because He doesn’t directly answer John. Instead He tells John what He’s done: ‘Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled now walk. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. And good news is preached to the poor.’
Jesus tells John the Baptist what He’s done instead of saying who He is. John learns who Jesus is through what He has done. John is to witness what Jesus has done.
Who is Jesus to me and you? What do we expect from Jesus? Maybe we expect Jesus to prevent hunger or keep kids from dying in wars or stop terrorist attacks. We have an imaginary God that does what we expect and then we have a real God that is not doing what we expect at all.
We will be disappointed at times that God isn’t all that we wanted. But remember what Jesus said: the blind can see. The dead are raised. The poor have good news. Remember what God has done in your life and in the life of others.
Jesus never lives up to our expectations. But the Jesus we get, the real one, is far more wonderful than anything we could have expected.
But while John’s confusion is interesting, I think it’s also instructive. Because if John – the forerunner and herald of the messiah – is not quite sure what to make of Jesus, then we should probably not be surprised that no one else is either. Indeed, throughout his ministry Jesus constantly defies expectations, redefines what it means to be God’s messiah, and surprises people, sometimes to their delight, but often to their consternation.
Which makes me wonder if we’ve domesticated Jesus. Are we so comfortable, that is, with Jesus that He no longer surprises us, cajoles us, even vexes us? If so, then maybe we’re not really paying attention. When do we miss the miraculous happening right before our eyes because our expectations limit our imaginations? What should we do when, despite our passionate efforts, the status quo isn’t changing, when those with power and privilege serve themselves at the expense of the powerless, and when God seems to sit idly by while Rome wins?
How do our blind spots make us complicit in social inequity? In what ways do our convictions about how God should work in the world lead to disappointment, with God, with others, or even with ourselves?
Perhaps we would benefit from admitting that the messiah works outside of our expectations…and it is still good. People then, like now, probably saw more bad things happen in their world than good. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t “God-sightings” happening. Jesus asked John what “God-sightings” he had seen. When we consider the same question, our eyes open to God at work in our lives. Let us allow the Lord to enable us to look beyond what our eyes can see. The question “Are you the One who is to come” seems not to be such a strange question.
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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