God of the Ordinary
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
December 9, 2022, Words By: Fred Laceda, Image By: Unknown
In my part of the world, advent is sometimes seen as an ominous sign. Instead of the picturesque holiday cards we see in the hallmark aisle, Advent feels more like a warning. Yes, the Advent air has a different vibe, for it evokes the memories of the devastation of the yearly typhoons that visit the Philippines during this time. More recently, there’s been a chilling social effect because so many activists are being arrested or worse, killed.
And this year’s advent is not an exception.
On November 30, Ericson Acosta, a renowned poet, writer and peace consultant was killed during what authorities euphemistically called an “encounter.” He was working with farmers to research and document their centuries-long plight of back-breaking poverty and injustice. Last year his wife, Kerima, was also killed under the same pretense of a “legitimate encounter.” In spite of living under constant physical threat, Kerima and Ericson never engaged in violence; they were more comfortable in the cadence of their created poetry than the recoil of the rifle.
Their deaths elicit polarizing reactions. Whether scorn or admiration, people’s varied responses are tied up by a simple question – “Why?” Why would individuals who have a bright future ahead of them risk everything and live a life devoted to a cause that would not even be “viral” in our social media-induced society?
Our lectionary text this week, Matthew 11:2-11, also starts with a question from John the Baptist: “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?” Just last week, in our lectionary passage, John was paving the way for the Messiah. John’s tone changed from annunciation to consternation real quick. What gives? Instead of the waters of the Jordan river, John is experiencing perhaps his own version of a crisis of expectation in the confines of his prison cell. What he previously imagined would be a straight line proves to be otherwise.
The heightened urgency of John’s situation perhaps prompted him to ask Jesus, to roughly translate his question: “What were you doing, Jesus?” I’m sure in John’s mind, and even from our own expectations, Jesus’ works are noble and commendable. But, they don’t always visibly move the needle.
John is not alone in his expectation of the coming Messiah. With a long history of a revolving door of foreign powers and local collaborators, John’s people were expecting the one who would drastically change their situation. Thus, what’s implied in John’s question is perhaps a longing for a larger-than-life figure, one that could reconfigure Israel’s political and religious structure.
Such a longing was not uncommon for the Israelites. Throughout their history they held tightly to their belief of God doing mighty things on their behalf. The exodus has become a model in times of crisis because it recalls God’s mighty and miraculous acts in saving Israel. But what can be overlooked is the role of violence in these episodes. Hence the easy equivocation of God and violence.
Did Jesus turn down this extravagant, powerful, mighty and perhaps violent portrayal of God?
By the looks of Jesus’ reply to John, the answer seems to be yes. There’s a trajectory in the Bible that reveals God’s actions, not in the grandiose and mighty displays of power, but seen in the ordinary. Not in the corridors of power, but in the mundane spaces in need of mercy. This is foreshadowed by Isaiah in his many texts that highlight the care for the little ones.
Ericson and Kerima’s work with the farmers, and Jesus’ ministry to the least, the last and lost of Israel have one thing in common: both come from the same social location, or what scholars call, “the little tradition;” wherein one is immersed in the traffic of daily life, in the mundane and ordinary. By dwelling with the people from below, Jesus is bringing an insight and word from below.
Dwelling Among Us
Where do you see God in the ordinary?