In today’s gospel lesson (Matthew 11:1-6), John the Baptist — who had preached a fiery message of judgment and repentance and who had announced that God would begin to set the world right through Jesus the Messiah — finds himself in prison. But as he monitors all the latest news about Jesus’ activities, he discovers that the actual shape of this Messiah’s ministry isn’t what he expected. Israel’s enemies aren’t being destroyed. Sinners aren’t being condemned. This isn’t the kind of liberation that he had in mind. And so, he sends his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (verse 3)
Of course, if we genuinely pay attention to the words and actions of Jesus as they’re recorded for us in scripture, I can’t help but wonder how many of us might feel a need to ask the same question. Because there, instead of a Messiah who wants to lead us in vanquishing our enemies, we find a Reconciler who wants to make us the kind of people who can turn enemies into friends. Instead of a Messiah who condemns all those sinners that we’ve excluded from the circle of God’s care, we find a Savior who reminds us that we’re sinners, too, and then offers to remake all of us through the transformative power of grace. Instead of a Messiah who protects our interests, we find a Liberator who brings hope to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. And instead of a Messiah who promises to make us great, we find a God who demonstrates that true greatness is found in humble service and sacrificial love.
When I look at my own heart, I realize that I — like John the Baptist — find it awfully easy to “yearn” for a Messiah. But it’s another thing entirely to follow in the way that God’s Messiah both taught and modeled. Perhaps that’s why Jesus ends his response with his: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (verse 6)
May we not stumble in our following today. And may our expectation (and our hope) be that the Messiah will do surprising things — “kingdom things” — both in and through us as we yield ourselves to Him.