Saturday, December 3, 2016

The One Who is to Come

Authenticity is a buzzword these days.  Everyone, everywhere is encouraged to be authentic.  Churches are applauded which appear authentic - true to themselves.  Matthew 11:2-11, the gospel lesson appointed for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, is a study in authenticity.  "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" asks John.  And the crowds around Jesus ask about John, "Is this the one about whom it was said, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'?" The Real Deal was important to Jesus' hearers.  It remains supremely important to us all.

(The following questions come from the method I have laid out in my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.  These are questions meant to supplement other questions asked by other methods.  These questions get at some of the issues for Law and Gospel preachers.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word bears testimony.  It functions to tell us that Jesus is "the one who is to come," the Messiah.  It also functions to tell us that John is the messenger who prepares the way for Christ, even as the prophet foretold.  This testimony is a gospel word, proclaiming to us that the One for whom the world has waited is amongst us.

2. How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Law in this text, exposing our need for Christ.  There is clearly acknowledgement of the brokenness of the world where the blind, lame, leprous, deaf, poor, and those dying must live.  Yet there is no word of judgement here.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are those who are questioning what is real.  We are like John, in our prisons, wondering if Jesus is the One who is to come.  We are also like those who question Jesus about John.  We want to know what is real.

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  We can imagine several:  doubting/faith-filled; despairing/hopeful; lost/found.

5.  Exegetical work:  Dougals Hare has an interesting commentary on this passage in his Matthean commentary.  He notes the general agreement that verse 5 (the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, etc.) echoes the words of the prophet in Isaiah 61:1 and 35:5-6.  Hare goes on to say, however, that verse 6 answers a deeper question:  "What does it mean for me that God  is opening a new age in and through Jesus?"  (Interpretation series, "Matthew", p. 121)  The answer, according to Jesus, is "blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."  Hare introduces an excellent point for any preacher to ponder regarding this text:  Yes, it's true that the new age that Jesus opens up is shown by miracles of healing and reconciliation.  Where are those miracles in evidence around me?  Where do I see healing, reconciliation and resurrection?  When I can answer those questions, then I begin to have faith that Jesus is truly the One who is to come.

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Mark Marius does a very inventive analysis of this text using the Crossings' diagnosis/prognosis model.  He envisions this text as a play with John the Baptist as a diva who demands a prominent role.  Archived under Gospel Year A for 2011, you can see the whole analysis by going to  Highly recommended.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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