Rev. Alan Combs serves as Pastor at Lane Memorial United Methodist Church in Alta Vista, Virginia.

Read Matthew 11:2-11.

candles_9826cJohn the Baptist is beginning to wonder what’s up with Jesus.  As Stanley Hauerwas points out, John was certain that Jesus was the Messiah when he baptized him. Now he isn’t so sure.  What changed?  Well, for one, John’s in prison for calling Herod out on failing to keep the law.  Even worse, there are a lot of folks who don’t appear to be taking to that whole “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near” message John and Jesus have been proclaiming. [1]

Even John, the one who Jesus describes as “more than a prophet,” the one called to announce the Messiah doesn’t seem to be getting the Messiah he expected or asked for.  So he sends his disciples to speak with Jesus.  He charges them to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus’ response to the question is to ask John to look and listen, through the reports of his disciples, at what is actually happening all around them.  Rather than to remain bogged down in what he thought it meant for the Messiah to come, Jesus challenges John to see the kingdom that is unfolding in their midst:

Go and tell John what you hear and see:  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 (Matthew 11:4-5).

Yes, John is in prison, but those who are disabled and sick are now lifted up, rather than seen as accursed.  Yes, there appear to be many who aren’t paying attention to the arrival of the Messiah, yet as Mary sings in the Canticle this week, Jesus has “lifted up the lowly” and “he has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53).

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Kingdom of God has come near, and it is received first by those who are most in a position to hear it. They are the ones who most easily “take no offence” at Jesus because they have no stake in the powers and principalities that are threatened by this new kingdom in which the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the rich are sent away empty (Luke 1:52-53). [2]

As we live in the tension between awaiting the birth of our Messiah and the flowering of his kingdom in his return during Advent, we find ourselves again challenged by this Jesus who refuses to be who we try to make him into. This was true even of John, who must have wondered why Jesus didn’t make his disciples fast in the same way John did, and who hung out with people like tax collectors and sinners.[3]

We are constantly surprised we are not getting the Jesus we asked for. Instead, Jesus challenges us to look at the places where his kingdom is actually unfolding.  He meets us on his own terms, and he reaches out to people we may think don’t deserve it.

We are surprised to find a Jesus who actually makes demands on our lives, rather than kindly letting us know that the way we are living is all right with him as long as we are nice people.

We are surprised to find that he’s not upset with John for saying hard words to people in order to lead them (and us) to repentance.  Jesus points out to the crowd:  John’s a prophet, that’s what prophets do.  They speak often unpleasant and unpopular truths to call us to repentance. (Matthew 11:7-9)

Instead, we find a Messiah whose kingdom is breaking into our world to our right and left, but the epicenter resides not in the centers of the powerful.  Instead, we find it in the centers of those who are often marginalized and voiceless.

When we learn to see and hear the signs of this kingdom, we find ourselves charged in the same way as John’s disciples, “Go and tell what you hear and see.”


[1] Stanley Hauerwas, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible:  Matthew, (Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, pp. 113-114.

[2] Hauerwas, Matthew, p. 115.

[3] Ibid., p. 114.