Summary: Often we are not credible because we do not accept others’ doubt as real, nor do we permit them to retain their dignity. We are called simply to invite them on a voyage of discovery where they will find that their hurts are healed.
What do you do when you try to help, and those you are helping are not sure they want that help?
What do you say when someone has a need, you propose an answer to that need, but they don’t believe that what you want to give will really do any good? How do you help people who are not sure they value the kind of help you can give?
Someone calls to see me and says he is three months’ behind on his rent and is about to be evicted. Can the church help? Well, yes, the church can help. We can advance him a little money … not three months’ rent, but a little; and we can offer him some job leads and access to a telephone; and we can offer him someone to help him study his finances and work out a budget; and we can offer a listening ear; and, most of all, we can offer prayer and can lead him to the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills! There’s quite a lot we can do.
But that isn’t what he wants to hear. The money we have to give is small and won’t cover the need. Most of the time they say, if you can’t help me the way I want to be helped, then it isn’t help at all. It isn’t real.
It’s easier to sell freezers to Eskimos than it is to sell people help they don’t think is real. It isn’t that what Christians have to give isn’t any good; it is that it is not thought to be good enough. People want concrete, immediate help, and we can’t always give that. So they do not value what we do have to give. It doesn’t seem real.
Several months ago I was standing by the hospital bed of one of our members, since deceased. I was talking with two of her relatives. In came a nurse, who brushed past us all without a word, intent on doing whatever she had to do. One of the other visitors, however, was not content for this nurse to ignore us. She introduced herself and then her cousin to the nurse, and then gestured in my direction and said, "And this is Dr. Smith." At that the nurse snapped to attention, looked straight past the cousins and stared at me, and said, "Oh!" "Oh" as in "I didn’t know you were anybody! "Oh", as in, if you are a doctor, I need to pay attention to you! "Oh!” For about ten seconds I felt like somebody! But then the other cousin punctured my balloon; the other cousin said, "Yes, but he’s not the kind of doctor who can do you any good!" Ouch! That hurt!
Those we are trying to help do not always think we can do them any good. In the crunch they are not so sure that what we have to offer is worth very much. How do we deal with our credibility being doubted when we seek to help? How do we handle it when they are not so sure we can do anything for them?
You would never have expected John to doubt what Jesus was doing. After all, they had grown up in the same extended family, as cousins. Jesus was not exactly an unknown quantity. There by the banks of the Jordan, only a short while before, John had baptized Jesus and had witnessed the Spirit descending as a dove to authenticate Him as the Christ. John had every reason to believe in Jesus and to believe in what He was doing.
But the moment came when this extraordinary man, John known as the Baptist, let loose anxieties and sent messengers to express some doubt.
The story comes after Jesus had done a series of healings. Great and unusual things were happening for people because of Jesus. People were being helped in ways they never expected to be helped. The story also comes at a time when John is in prison; he had gotten a little too pointed about King Herod and his love life, and so was cooling his heels as a guest of the taxpayers. And so John wonders:
Jesus was helping people. But John wasn’t so sure the help was real. How did Jesus deal with the credibility problem?
First, notice that Jesus just accepted John’s doubt. He accepted the doubt. He did not criticize John, He did not try to argue the case, He did not attempt to pull the props out from under John’s concern. Jesus simply accepted John’s doubts, as they were.
Where did John’s doubt come from? Lots of places, I’m sure. One possibility seems strong: that John’s doubt came from all the disappointments and disillusionments the Jewish people had suffered in past times. Jesus was by no means the first person to come down the pike proclaiming himself as God’s gift to the human race! There had been plenty of rogues and charlatans, ambitious and crazy men, trying to get a following. How could John be sure that this was any different? Jesus could have been another one of these crippling disappointments. John has heard what Jesus is doing; but is it real? Is it real?