Who are you? Who? Who? Who? WHO?
That is the question asked in this week’s passage (Luke 7:18-35) [Read it here]
Sitting in prison, John the Baptist has apparently had some access to the news of the day. And so he has heard about Jesus, at least enough to make him curious. To assuage his curiosity he sends some of his disciples (and theoretically the source of his information) to ask Jesus who he is.
“Are you the one we are waiting for?” Remember, John has proclaimed that another is coming, one who is greater than John, one who will change the world. And judging from what we read in Chapter 3 John expects that the one who is to come will chop down trees and winnow the grain from the chaff. Now he want to know if Jesus is the one.
How would he not know? Is it just because he does not have first-hand knowledge? (Remembering that in Luke’s account of baptism we have no record of how John and Jesus interact, we don’t know what John’s impression was at that time) Or is there something deeper here. Is it that Jesus only sort of seems to be who John was expecting?
In my first year of seminary (24 years ago now) one of the assignments in Introduction to New Testament was to look at a variety of texts and determine if Jesus is the Messiah that was expected. The texts laid out a “job description” of sorts — and Jesus fails. Not only does Jesus fail to free his people from the Roman yoke and setup a new kingdom like that of David and Solomon, he doesn’t even seem to have that task on his to-do list. John seems to have expected active and vigorous cleansing, more repentance and sin stuff. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing that either.
Are you the one I was waiting for?
It seems to me that Jesus does not directly answer the question. On the face it is a straight yes/no question. But Jesus says neither of those words. Instead he puts it back on the questioners “Tell John what you have seen”.
He tells them to witness to God at work. He challenges them, and John to whom they will (presumably) report, to see things differently. The answer to John’s question is going, in the end, to depend on John. Can John overcome his very specific expectation and his disappointment to see that Jesus IS the one, just in a different way?
We too fall prey to expectations of how God is/will be at work in the world. Are there times we miss what God is doing because it is different from what we hoped for? Are we John, desperately hoping to see one thing, hearing about something wonderful, and wondering what to make of it?
Or are we the messengers? Are there people in our lives asking what God is doing, if Christ is present somewhere and the only answer we can give is to tell them what we see/hear/experience?
[I suspect we are both]
It is often true that we see Jesus, we see Christ, we see God more clearly when we are open to see something other than what we expect. Sometimes that is based on what we experience, sometimes it is based on what we hear from others. But rarely is it actually a straight-forward yes/no question.
Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings
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