11 December 2016Matthew 11:2-11
“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.” (vv. 7-9)
Psalm: Psalm 146
Matthew's Gospel records John the Baptist, the disciples and crowds all wrestling with an issue we still face today. How do you recognise someone as a true prophet from God, or even as the Messiah? What do you look for and where will you find that kind of person?
As he does so often, Jesus challenges their expectations by asking people if they expected to recognise a prophet (or the Messiah) by their worldly power, position and wealth? Clearly if that is what you are looking for, then both John the Baptist and Jesus are misfits.
By this time John is in prison and Jesus, despite attracting crowds, has no position or official authority.
Jesus then sets out different criteria for discerning if he is the one John came to announce. They may be familiar as Luke 4:16-20 records Jesus reading a similar list from Isaiah. These criteria should not have been a surprise to the people of Israel.
With the benefit of hindsight, knowing how the Gospels end, and with the knowledge of how Christians have understood Jesus to be for centuries it should not surprise us that Jesus can be the Messiah and known by his actions rather than his status. But for the people caught up in the events it clearly was not so obvious. Even John was wondering if these signs were enough.
When looking for God at work there was, and still is, a temptation to look at signs of worldly authority, power and wealth, imagining that these give credence to claims to be a prophet or even the Messiah.
Yet the story of the Messiah from conception through to crucifixion and even onto resurrection is far from worldly power and authority. He is rejected by religious leaders, and has no wealth nor official power.
Jesus challenged them (and us today) to search for prophets and the Messiah not amidst the rich and powerful, and instead to look at their teaching, the life they lead and the lives that are transformed through them.
One reason that people might prefer to look elsewhere for prophets is that both John's and Jesus' response to God led them to death at the hands of those in power - not a comfortable option.
- Where do we look for God's people today?
- Dare we look past positions of authority, power and wealth for the prophets of God? Dare we look among the outcasts, those in prison, those without wealth or power? Why?
- Do we believe that God has changed and now works through the trappings of worldly power? Or like the crowds and disciples are we more comfortable recognising people with power in this world? Why?