Summary: Jesus didn't fit John's idea of what the Messiah would be like. Jesus stressed love rather than judgment. Jesus moves in surprising ways and communicates God's grace in unexpected situations.
Matthew 11:2-11 “Different Expectations”
The family gathers around the newborn’s bassinette. They marvel at this squirming gift of life, and give thanks for health and wholeness. As they gaze upon the baby’s features they wonder what the child will become, what will this new member of the human race accomplish, and how will he or she impact their lives and the world.
On that “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the parents, shepherds, wise men—perhaps even a drummer boy—gathered around the stable’s manger and gazed upon the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Each of them had their own expectations of what the child would become. Mary cherished the words of the angel who told her she was chosen to be the mother of God’s son. Joseph remembered the dreams he had received. The shepherds recounted the proclamation of the angelic host, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior …” The wise men interpreted the appearance of a star.
Whether we look at the Christ child, the nomadic preacher or the crucified savior, each of us has different expectations of how Jesus in move in our lives.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
John the Baptist had a gnawing fear and a simmering anger churning at the core of his being. He knew who he was. He understood that he had been sent by God to prepare the way for the coming Messiah—or as he put it, “the kingdom of heaven.” Things had not gone as he had planned, however. He was in prison, and he probably had a premonition that he would never leave that prison alive. The kingdom of heaven had not arrived in the way he thought it would.
John’s concept of God was that of a righteous, holy God. He preached that the Messiah would come in judgment to bless the good people and punish the bad. His was a message of fire and brimstone. John expected Jesus to fulfill his prophecy, but Jesus did not; Jesus was nothing that John thought he would be.
Doubts began to form in John’s mind as he sat in the cold silence of his prison cell. Had he been wrong? Was Jesus not the Messiah? Was the Messiah still to come? Had his life and ministry been a mistake? Would he be executed because he believed a lie? John sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus in order to determine if Jesus truly was who John had once thought him to be—the long awaited Messiah, Savior of Israel.
We understand the doubts John the Baptist had, because we have them, too. Commonly we come to Jesus thinking things will be better. Our sicknesses will be less severe, our struggles not as overwhelming, our successes greater and our failures few or non-existent. Like John, Jesus does not meet our expectations.
Elizabeth Edwards died this week. She died too young, with ten and twelve year-old children still to raise. From all reports she was a good woman. She did not deserve to see her teenage son die in an automobile accident, an unfaithful husband, or breast cancer. If Jesus was truly who he said he was, Elizabeth should have overcome the cancer and lived to see her grandchildren. It’s not just Elizabeth, though. Every one of us knows people who have died too young or suffered too much.
This economic downturn, recession, depression, or whatever you’d prefer to call it, has caused many doubts about Jesus to form in our minds. We have taken offense at Jesus, or as the word in our gospel lesson is translated, “scandalized” by Jesus. Some of us have lost our houses and all of us know people whose homes have been foreclosed. Some of us have lost our jobs, or have had our hours decreased or our wages cult. All of us know of people who have experienced these things. If faith in Jesus doesn’t protect us from sickness, save our homes, or keep our jobs, then what good is it?
When asked by John’s disciples if he truly is the Messiah, Jesus instructs them to tell John what they hear and see. It is in Jesus’ words and actions that we begin to understand what we can expect from him. As we hear Jesus’ words and see Jesus’ actions we realize that Jesus did not come to fulfill our expectations, but rather to meet our needs.
We can expect Jesus’ steadfast love and acceptance. Throughout the Old Testament the people of Israel were a rebellious lot. God never stopped loving them and never refrained from calling them his people. Jesus intentionally sought out the sick, the powerless, the disenfranchised—the outsiders. By his words and actions, Jesus accepted, included and steadfastly loved all people—even those like the Scribes and Pharisees for whom he had harsh words. By faith we live in the reality of Jesus’ love and acceptance.