I’m reminded today of a tired, old, preacher’s joke (and at this point, I’m not sure if it’s the joke or the preacher that’s old and tired) that still conveys a valuable bit of insight. I’m sure that you’ve heard it, too. A man falls off a steep cliff and is hanging onto a branch for dear life. “God, please help me!” he shouts. And God answers, “Have faith, my son, and I will protect you. Let go of the branch.” The man ponders this for a moment and then cries out, “Is there someone else up there?”
Sometimes, the way that God chooses to act in our lives and in the world doesn’t really mesh with the our expectations. So it was for the man hanging from the branch, and so it was for John the Baptist in today’s gospel lesson (Matthew 11:1-6). John eagerly announced the coming of Messiah. He baptized Jesus and saw the heavens open and the Spirit of God descend in the form of a dove. But then he got thrown in prison, from where he couldn’t help but notice that the ministry of this newly-anointed Messiah looked a whole lot different than he thought it would. And so he sent some of his followers to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt. 11:3)
And Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Mt. 11:4-6)
What are our expectations about the way that God’s activity “ought” to look? And how do those expectations shape our activity as those who follow God’s anointed? Especially in a world that seems overwhelmed by so many enormous challenges, are we still trusting in and emulating the “humble kingdom way” of our Savior, who brings good news to the sick, the poor and the ostracized? Or are we looking for someone else?
If we’re honest, it’s easy to wonder how the gracious and serving way of Jesus can make much difference in a world of intractable conflicts, partisan bickering, and school shootings. But as today’s New Testament lesson reminds us: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:1-6)
We don’t need to look for someone else, because we know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. May we love Him, and trust Him, and look for Him today.