12 December 2010

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 ..." (vv. 2-4)


In today's passage, Jesus is talking about the strength of people's expectations, both of himself and of John the Baptist, his contemporary. 

When we travel through Advent, we tend to get caught up in the nativity story, thinking about baby Jesus and Mary, the magi from the East and the shepherds, the stars and the angels. And that's all well and good. But sometimes it's helpful to think about the man that baby Jesus grew up to be. 

Babies are little bundles of potential, but for Mary there were no scans, no clues what Jesus would be like. And she wasn't just awaiting her own bundle of joy - she was carrying the expectations of a whole nation - a people crying out for a saviour, desperate to be rescued from the trials of the Roman occupation. 

No pressure then. 

But when Jesus grew up, he wasn't necessarily the Messiah that people expected. He didn't storm into Jerusalem taking back power from the Romans, leading his people to glorious victory and a trouble-free life. He rode on a donkey, socialised with tax collectors and prostitutes, and was crucified and shamed as a criminal. 

So when John's disciples came to him to ask if he was the Messiah, Jesus simply told them to judge on their own terms - who did they think he was, based on his actions and teachings? He wants them to forget the gossip and rumours and rely on their own experiences of his ministry. Similarly, when Jesus talks about John's identity, he asks people what they saw when they went out to meet John and he affirms John's status as a great prophet. But, as far as his own identity is at stake, Jesus tells people to make up their own minds. 

Jesus seems to be saying that faith is about experiences - what we see and hear and touch and feel. This would have been convenient for those living in 1st century Palestine during Jesus' lifetime. But how do we relate to that in the times when God can seem so distant and our faith so disconnected from our lives? For me, those are the times when reading about Jesus' life and teachings, and spending time with God in prayer become more important than ever. 

To Ponder

Do you ever question who Jesus is? What do your experiences of faith tell you?

This advent, what are your expectations for the coming Messiah? Where will you find him? Will it be the palace or the slum? The dinner party or the pub?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.