A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (35:1-10)
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah!
A Reading from the Book of James (5:7-10)
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (11:2-11)
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.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
About five miles east of the Dead Sea, in the arid hills of Madaba, Jordan, stand the remains of the mountain fortress of Machaerus. In or around the year 30 of the Common Era, Herod Antipas met there with some of his top officials, who briefed him on the status of the tax collections that were a constant part of his subjects’ lives. Some of that money would be used to maintain both his control over the people and his own comfortable lifestyle. Much of it would be turned over to the Roman occupiers: the price he had to pay to stay in power as one of their vassals. Servants stood by to attend to his every whim.
At the same time, a solitary prisoner languished in a small, dark cell far below the palace where that meeting was taking place. His name was John. For years he had been teaching the people and calling them to repentance and to a change of life. Those who accepted his call had come forward to be baptized by him in the Jordan River.
The crowds who came to John had come to believe that he was God’s prophet, just like the prophets of old. He proclaimed the word, the message of God; but clearly, he himself was not the message. Instead he boldly called all of them to change their lives in order to prepare for a decisive coming of God in the person of the Promised One whom God would send.
There were many different opinions at that time about that Promised One: about who he would be and what exactly he would do. Nobody was sure, of course, not even John. But, both before and after his arrest, John had been hearing reports about one of his former followers, a man known as Jesus of Nazareth, and about the amazing things that he had been doing.
And so, as John came to realize that he would probably never leave that prison alive and that his death could come at any time, his whole attention was focused on the question that was critical to his assessment of all that he had done. He had to know whether this Jesus, at last, might be the one for whom he had been preparing the people. And so, when some of his closest disciples came to care for him in prison, he sent them to ask Jesus point-blank: “Are you ’the one who is to come’ or shall we look for another.”
In response, Jesus let his actions do the talking. Knowing that his one-time teacher had lived a life immersed in the words of the scriptures, Jesus alluded to the words of the prophet Isaiah, such as those that we heard for today’s first reading: “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.” For John, the answer would be clear.
But is that answer clear to us? Is Jesus God’s Chosen One, God’s Promised One; or should we, too, look for someone else? The answer we give is not merely an academic one. It is one that has the power to determine the very course of our lives. The issue is not whether or not we choose to call Jesus “God’s Promised One,” “the Messiah,” “the Christ.” In the end, what we choose to call him makes little difference. Countless people have made and continue to make the affirmation that he is God’s Christ — with little or no consequence for the way they live their lives.
The real question is not “Is Jesus the Messiah?” but “What kind of Messiah is Jesus?” – with a follow-up question, “then what does that mean for me and for my life?”
Judaism at the time of Jesus was not a monolith. It was comprised of many different sects and many different ways of interpreting and living the heritage of Israel. And within that great diversity, there was a wide variety of opinions about what God’s Messiah would be and do – if there would be a personal Messiah at all. It seems that many people’s images of what a Messiah would be were built, not on God’s promises, but on what they wanted the Messiah to be. They tried, in a sense, to make the Messiah look like them. Maybe we do the same thing.
Some people, at the time of Jesus, for example, expected a Messiah who would set Israel free from Roman rule and bring back the kind of nation that Judah had supposedly been at the time that David was king. This Messiah would be one who would control his world, putting order into it, ensuring that everyone would follow a clear set of laws. Today, some people still envision Jesus primarily as the giver of a clear set of God’s laws, laws that spell out exactly how we have to live our lives; and they see him as the judge who will determine, at the end of time, whether or not people have complied with those laws.
Other people in ancient Israel looked for a spiritual leader, one concerned mostly or solely with the personal purity of the people and the way that they conducted their individual, personal, interior relationship with God. Today, too, there are those who want to make of Jesus a purely spiritual teacher: one concerned only with people’s inner, spiritual lives, not focusing, as Jesus does throughout the gospels, on God’s justice and on how we and our society use, or fail to use, our wealth to care for those in need.
Still others at Jesus’ time may have wanted a Messiah who would build up the community that is Israel, focusing inwardly on its practices and life without regard to its responsibility to be a “light to the nations”: on its call from God to live, not for itself, but for the sake of the rest of the world. Today, too, there are those who want to see Jesus as concerned almost exclusively with the internal life of the church, focusing on “us” rather than on “them”: on those of us who are members of the church, instead of on those who are in need in the wider community and world around us
But notice Jesus’ definition of his role as Messiah: the characteristics that he pointed out to those who had been sent by John. “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.”
If these are, in fact, the characteristics of the Messiah as Jesus views that role, then should they not be the characteristics of our lives, too – we who are called by his name? Aren’t we, too, sent to do what Jesus did: to open the eyes of those who are blind and the ears of those who are deaf so that they can see and hear the way of life to which God calls all of us? To enable the lame to walk: helping those who have been crippled by poverty, ignorance or prejudice to walk the way of life along with us? To cleanse the lepers and raise the dead: to bring those who have been shunned by and avoided by society to new life in the fellowship of all the children of God? To bring good news to the poor: to enable those whose lives are a constant struggle to find hope in God and hope in a caring community.
Like John, held captive in that prison cell, there are people today, right in our own community, who are held captive in many different ways. And like John, they too demand to know whether Jesus and those who call themselves his followers are the ones sent by God, the ones for whom they have been waiting and hoping and praying. Today they ask us, “Are you the ones whom God sends, or do we have to look for someone else?” Like Jesus, we can ultimately answer that question only by our actions, only by the way we live our lives, only by the way we serve the world in his name.