Image: Jesus Mafa | “John Baptizes Jesus”

Born in Jail

From  Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him…

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Lina Thompson
Seattle, WA  |  U.S.

A good friend preached in church last Sunday. He shared that when he and his wife had their first child, they were prepared to lose some sleep. Many people had warned them it would be hard, so they were ready for some significant “sleep challenges.”

What they actually experienced was severe sleep deprivation.

You know what that’s like, right?…when you’ve prepared well and your expectations are still drastically different from reality!

I think this is some of what John the Baptist is getting at when he asks:

“Are you the one we’ve been waiting for or should we wait for another?”

This seems like such a far cry from some of the first images we have of John the Baptist proclaiming: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John baptized Jesus. He had a front row seat when the Spirit of the Lord descend on Jesus. He probably even heard the voice from heaven saying: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

That John, with all of the firsthand knowledge and all that passion…that John, sent to prepare the way of the Lord…that John, Jesus’ cousin, has a question that sounds a little like doubt:

“Are you, in fact the one we have been waiting for?”

John the Baptist, sitting In Herod’s prison with nothing but time on his hands, is beginning to question his expectations about Jesus. And I would imagine he’s wondering about his own life in light of his present circumstances.

I feel for him. After all, his entire life was shaped by an angel who told his father, Zechariah, that his son was going to be the forerunner to the Messiah (Luke 1). I imagine John’s question is a sign of some significant self-doubt. He was the first person to name Jesus “the ONE”…the ONE who was going to make everything right according to the prophets. John’s identity was based on Jesus’ messiahship.

And now he’s beginning to wonder if he got it wrong, so he sends his disciples directly to Jesus with one question.

“Are you the One?”

Jesus could have simply answered “yes” or “no”. Instead, he responds:

The blind. They see.

The lame. They walk.

The lepers. They’re cleansed.

The deaf. They hear.

The dead. They are raised.

“And the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.”
Jesus answers as if to say: “If this is what you were waiting for, then yes, I am THAT One.”

Jesus’ Messiahship is defined by his activity and ministry among those who suffer. Was this what John was waiting for?

This is what the Spirit of God does in our lives. She invites us to take a hard look at our assumptions and expectations. That isn’t always comfortable.

That’s why Jesus’ next words in verse 6 are somewhat comforting:

“You are blessed if you aren’t scandalized (offended) by me…”You are blessed in your discomfort if you don’t get offended by how and where God is locating God’s presence in the world.

Church, don’t be offended the God who locates power and blessing with and through the poor, powerless and oppressed. Don’t be offended. Be blessed.

We don’t know how John received that answer or whether the disciples ever made it back to him. I hope it didn’t offend him. I hope He received it as good and liberative news.

I pray that for myself, too. I hope that when the scandalizing nature of the Good News feels offensive, I can relax and let go a little — let go of my need to control God, my need to control others and my need to be right.

Expectations are fine, but when it comes to God, I don’t think it will ever be possible to get our expectations exactly right.

What are you expecting from God? Who are you expecting God to be in your life? In the life of your community? Is there room for God to be more than what you expect and more than what you plan for?