Saturday, December 15, 2007

Changing the Job Description

Every once in a while, the lectionary folks throw us a wild pitch, having us read stories that we don't usually connect with the Christmas story, or season. The gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Advent in Year A is one such reading.

(Read Matthew 11:2-11)

This sounds like one of those all too human, all too familiar stories from the gospels of someone who questions Jesus' identity or authority. Only this time it is not a scribe, a Pharisee, a lawyer, or some other religion leader. Nope, it is one of Jesus' kin, his cousin, John the Baptist. He's sitting in prison, wondering what is going to happen to him next (and having a pretty good idea what will take place), and he's been hearing rumors and stories about what Jesus is doing. So he sends some of his disciples to ask, 'are you the real deal?' Or are we going to have to put our hopes on hold again?'

Can you hear just the hint of disappointment in what John is asking? Maybe he and Jesus used to play that childhood game of 'Romans and peasants' with the peasants always winning. Maybe when they were teenagers, they talked about the kind of world they would bring about when they became adults. Who knows. But doesn't it make you wonder what John was looking for in Jesus? A man on fire, a man of fire? Did he hope Jesus would lead a army to break him out of prison, who would knock Herod off the throne, and who, after becoming king, would name his
favorite cousin as prime minister?

Whatever the reason, Jesus is just not doing what John expected of him. Yes, Jesus is going about the countryside doing things, but they seem to be the wrong things. He's not putting an army together, he's bringing tax collectors and prostitutes to the family table. He's not a mighty warrior like David, he's sitting around telling stories. He's not plotting to overthrow the oppressors from Rome, Jesus is giving sermons about turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile. In fact, his response to John's question is simple, 'go and tell cuz that I am the one who was to come; but the job description has been changed just a bit. The blind see their way home, the lame dance down the street, new life is given to those the world has thrown out with the garbage, and mercy comes before judgment.'

And we can just see John sitting in that cell when the answer comes back to him, thinking, 'where in the world did Jesus get all those crazy ideas?' Then, in the silence and darkness of those moments, he begins to hear words from Isaiah, and Amos, and Hosea. Words about God's vengeance turning out to be salvation; words about one who is coming to bring exiles home; words about the time when all creation will be healed; songs about the poor being filled with all sorts of good things; visions about Death Valley becoming Napa Valley; about a young woman in a wheelchair who plays Eliza Doolittle in 'My Fair Lady.'

And in the hearing of those words, and the recalling of those visions, those hopes, those dreams of God, John comes to realize, just as we must if we are going to walk to Bethlehem this year, that the way may just require going in an unexpected direction.

Prayer: Long before the poet put the words down on paper, Surpriser of our souls, you knew that we would come to a fork in the road. Help us to be able to choose the unexpected way, the way that leads us into your kingdom. Amen.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

No comments: