Summary: Year A Third Sunday in Advent December 16th, 2001 Matthew 11: 1-11 Heavenly Father empower us to accept Jesus on his terms and not expect him to change to fit our preconceptions of God. Amen.
Year A Third Sunday in Advent December 16th, 2001 Matthew 11: 1-11
Heavenly Father empower us to accept Jesus on his terms and not expect him to change to fit our preconceptions of God. Amen.
Title: “Living up to religious expectations.”
The Baptist, in prison, sends his disciples to question Jesus whether he is the Messiah. Jesus answers by pointing to his works. Jesus then teaches that the Old Testament, represented by John, is important but limited compared to the New Testament.
After the Sermon on the Mount, the summary of the message of Jesus, in chapters five to seven, Matthew records the meaning and the practical results of that message for people, ordinary people, in chapters eight and nine, where he gives numerous healing miracles, exorcisms and even nature miracles. In chapter ten, Jesus sends out his disciples to do the same.
All this confuses John the Baptist. If Jesus is not the kind of Messiah the general populace was expecting, a political deliverer, neither was he the kind John was expecting and preaching about. In chapter three verses seven to twelve, he predicted that the Coming One would baptize the repentant in the Holy Spirit and destroy the unrepentant. John expected a more religious Messiah, more of a judge than a king, who would establish justice, a justice consonant with the holiness of God. If Jesus did not fit the expectations of a political Messiah, neither did he fit the expectations of a religious one, at, least in the apocalyptic sense, a sense so prominent in the Baptist. Chapters eleven and twelve, deal with these various reactions to Jesus; chapter thirteen explains and at the same time hides, Jesus’ message and meaning in a series of parables; and chapters fourteen to sixteen, treat of even more reactions to Jesus, ending with Peter’s confession that he is the true Messiah, the Son of the living God in chapter sixteen verses thirteen to twenty.
In verse two, John…in prison: John’s arrest was noted in chapter four verse twelve, but the full story of how he got there and why is not told until chapter fourteen verses three to twelve. Herod’s illicit wife, Herodias was behind it all. The Baptist had the audacity to speak the truth about their illicit marriage and paid the price for it. Like every true prophet before him, he had the wisdom of God in his mind, truth on his lips and courage in his heart. For a man who did not even live in a house, prison had to be especially torturous. He had time to think. Jesus and his disciples did not fast as John and his did. Jesus associated with the very people John and the Law kept at a distance.
Heard…of the works of the Messiah: “Works,” certainly refer to Jesus’ miracles, but probably are meant to include his preaching as well. The “works,” of his disciples chapter ten, would no doubt be included. John had proclaimed the coming of a vengeful judge and a fiery judgment, but Jesus was showing mercy by healing. This did not match John’s preconceptions.
In verse three, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” “He who is to come” was not a title for the Messiah which was prominent in Scripture. There is a verse from Isaiah 59:20, “He shall come to Zion as redeemer,” which was used in the synagogue service in a messianic sense and remains as an ancient part of the daily service. Probably the average person used the title rather than the more theological ones used by scribes. John seems astute enough to already know that Jesus was fulfilling what Isaiah 61: 1-2 said about healing. Yet in the same text it says “liberty to captives and release to the prisoners.” John certainly was not being let out of prison! Is he “mightier than I, John,” or not?
In verse four, “Go and tell John what you hear and see…” Jesus avoids theological argumentation. Instead, he points to the evidence, what he and his disciples have done in chapters five to ten.
In verse five, the poor have the good news preached to them, first, Jesus’ miracles are itemized, reflecting the phraseology of Isaiah 35: 5-6 the first reading for this Sunday, a passage which tells what God will do in the time of salvation. It was not exactly expected that the Messiah would do such things as give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, etc. Only God could do these things. These were more than what the Jews expected of their “Messiah.” Matthew is telling us that Jesus is divine. “Raising the dead,” does not appear in Isaiah 35: 5-6, but it does appear in Isaiah 26: 19. “Cleansing lepers,” does not appear at all in Isaiah, showing that Jesus’ deeds are not limited even to Old Testament texts. If such deeds did not form part of the general expectation or “profile,” of the Messiah, they should have. Everyone missed them, but they were there. In Jesus’ own understanding of his mission the relief of suffering, as in Isaiah 61: 1-2, looms large, but it reaches its climax in the “good news to the poor,” the godly minority described in the Beatitudes of chapter five. Jesus is here saying that if his mission is too “gentle,” for John, John has missed the biblical pattern on which Jesus’ mission is founded. Jesus is saying to the Baptist that he, like others, is substituting that pattern with more popular distortions of it and believing in them more than in what all of Scripture says.