Amidst the rush of the ‘festive season’, who are we expecting this Advent? A Messiah perhaps? If so, what sort of Messiah do we imagine will turn up? John the Baptist, in prison, sends messengers enquiring of Jesus are you the one, or must we wait for another?
Last week John declared Jesus was the one who is to come – as the prophet Isaiah had foretold – but now he’s not so sure. He’s puzzled by what he’s heard. Jesus responds by saying, “go and tell John what’s been happening throughout Galilee”. What disorients John is that not only does Jesus instruct, he also heals the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the poor, and those with no one to turn to. A new creation is happening – a re-creation – and Matthew’s gospel has called our attention to it from the beginning.
The ascetic, prophetic John of last week – calling people to repent, dressed in camel hair and eating off the land – has told of the one who will bring a fierce judgment. So, who is this? Is this what the prophets foretold? Yes, Jesus calls people to repentance, but, by calling up the words of the prophet Isaiah again, lets it be known these healings are a sign of the new age that the Messiah will usher in: the kingdom of heaven is here.
The question for all of us at this time is what have we seen and heard this year? What is happening among us? Do the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, do the poor get dental care, the homeless a place to live? Is the good news good for them? Is Jesus the one, or must we look around for another? These questions are being asked of us, all the more pointedly at this moment, which is why we have to make a response.
If there are no signs, or few that we can discern, then we might, like John in prison, become more and more uncertain of this person and wonder whether he is the one we continue to say he is. And we may turn away from him, because we had expected someone, something different. Jesus, recognising God’s grace, says: ‘Happy is the man who doesn’t lose faith in me’.
The messengers leave and Jesus declares John to be the greatest of the prophets; but, he continues, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater still. John’s greatness only serves to highlight the fullness of life to which we are called; but, it is a fullness, a greatness, made real by doing what Jesus does – like the disciples he sent out previously – listening to, inviting into our midst those with no one to turn to. Is this the one we’re expecting this Advent?
© Majellan 2019