Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Are You The One?

This week’s account of John in  Matthew 11: 2-11 is quite a contrast to last week’s Gospel. What happened to the outspoken firebrand, the radical Messianic prophet? He attracted large crowds as he fearlessly rebuked religious leaders with his preaching. While his arrogant, self-assured confidence made us a little uncomfortable, we were eager to hear what he had to say about the Advent of the One. But this week, we see a different John, pacing his small prison cell, wondering if his ministry was all in vain and having his doubts about whether Jesus truly was the long awaited Messiah. By all accounts, Jesus was not measuring up to his expectations. Desperate for some validation, he manages to send a messenger to put the question directly to Jesus: “Are you the one?”

Rather than answer John’s question directly, Jesus cites all that he has done and dispatches the messenger:

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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.

Matthew gives us reason to suggest that John was aware of Jesus ministry and his works. But was he looking for something more spectacular? Were Jesus’ works a little too mundane for a Messiah? What was it that he wanted to hear from Jesus? Maybe John’s sights were set on a different kind of Messiah, one based on his concept of what a Messiah is, because he hadn’t prepared himself to see God at work His presence in the quiet things.

As a child I sang in a boys’ choir every Sunday and on Holy Days. I remember singing the beautiful Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, in May and at Christmas time.  We sang the hymn in Latin. However, I was confused by Sister Henrietta’s translation: the haunting melody and cadence and its sweet sounding words, albeit meaningless to us, seemed to betray the theme of a humble virgin’s song of praise. It sounded more like a revolutionary battle cry:

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
    and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
    and the rich he has sent away empty.

Was this the powerful Messiah John was expecting? Perhaps Jesus’ answer to John says it best: What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? And yet, John was right, the Messiah was all about dethroning the mighty but Jesus was all about exalting the lowly, or filling the hungry. Jesus was interested in deeds and not words, Go and tell John what you hear and see. Jesus was all about repentance, a metanoia…turning the mind around. His revolution was about social change…the fruits worthy of repentance.

And so I wonder, are we any different from John? What limits have we placed on our imagination, on our expectations? Sure the beautiful Church services, with its inspirational sermons, hymns and fellowship at Christmas all serve to create a sense of God, but do we continue to carry that sense of God with us when we leave the Church and tend to our day-to-day activities in the other 167 hours of the week? Have we prepared ourselves to look for God in the ordinary people, places and things of our lives, in the ordinary nickels and dimes of our lives?

We do not come to know God by contemplating Him in secure spiritual isolation or by discussing the scripture every Wednesday night. No, God comes to us when we provide shelter for the homeless or offer a cup of water to the thirsty, in either a Waterford glass or Dixie cup. It's A Quiet Thing


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