Looking for Jesus? He's Wherever the Lame Walk and the Poor Hear Good News

Matthew 11:2-6

Looking for Jesus?

He’s Wherever the Lame Walk and the Poor Hear Good News

December 4, 2016

This Advent season we are looking for Jesus, week by week making our way to Bethlehem to find the baby in a manger. But along the way, the Gospel readings invite us to look for Jesus in some unlikely places. Last week Jesus said the Son of Man will return at an unexpected hour. If you’re looking for Jesus, stay alert, because every moment of every day is a time when Jesus might show up. Because everything we do—cleaning house and going to work and forgiving others—can be a way to be aware.

Are you looking for Jesus? Today, John the Baptist was looking for Jesus. Or more accurately, John knows where Jesus is; he’s looking to see if Jesus is One he’d thought he was--the Savior, the Messiah, the One. John had been an early believer in Jesus. He’d recognized that he wasn’t worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals, and when he baptized Jesus, John heard God’s voice say, "This is my Son, the Beloved." He believed.

But that was a long time ago. And now John is in prison, on death row for criticizing the king’s sexual misbehavior. By now John thought Jesus would have kicked the Romans out of Judea, or at least put together a band of soldiers, maybe come and bust him out of jail. Instead, from what John hears, Jesus has become some traveling preacher and faith healer, all the Jewish leaders hate him, and his posse is a few fisherman and a tax collector.

John is disappointed; Jesus has not lived up to his expectations. So John sent some people to ask Jesus, "Are you the One, or do we need to look for someone else?" He wasn’t exactly looking for Jesus; he was looking right at Jesus and wondering if he should look somewhere else. John may have been the first to grow disillusioned with Jesus, but he wasn’t the last.1 People still look around and wonder: if Jesus is the Savior, why aren’t we saved from senseless violence? If Jesus is the Messiah, why isn’t there more forgiveness and understanding? And if Jesus is the One, why do I still hurt so much inside? And lots of people look at the church and ask, If Jesus is their Savior, why don’t they shelter the injured and the vulnerable? If Jesus is their Messiah, why don’t they exhibit more forgiveness and understanding? And if Jesus really is the One, why don’t they reach out to me and help me stop hurting?

Are you among those who have been disappointed at times? And yet, are you still looking for Jesus? Are you wondering where to look to know he’s the One you need?

Fortunately, Jesus told John . . . and us, exactly where to look to know that he is the One. He tells John’s messengers:

Go and tell John what you hear and see:

The blind receive their sight,

The lame walk

The lepers are cleansed,

The deaf hear,

The dead are raised,

And the poor have good news brought to them.

You heard the same thing in the song Todd sang earlier:

The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak The praises of The Lamb.2

That’s where to look for Jesus. He’s wherever bodies and spirits are being healed. Jesus is wherever strangers and outcasts are welcomed. Jesus is wherever people find new life. And any news that’s good for poor people comes straight from Jesus.

I look for Jesus every time I visit the hospital, and most often see him. I see Jesus at AA meetings where lives are being put back together. I see Jesus at the CRC as hungry families find food and social workers help elderly residents stay in their own homes. I see Jesus where volunteers help immigrants learn English. And I absolutely saw Jesus in those cardboard testimonies (the video of which you can see right after this service)—people witnessing to forgiveness and acceptance, healing and peace of mind. Are you looking for Jesus? That’s where to look.

After Jesus tells us where to look, he says one more thing:

Go and tell John, Jesus says, what you hear and see:

The blind receive their sight,

The lame walk

The lepers are cleansed,

The deaf hear,

The dead are raised,

And the poor have good news brought to them.

And then he adds one more thing: "And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." And you might wonder—why would anyone take offense at any of those things? And why would anyone take offense at Jesus, of all people? Well, people did, didn’t they? You may recall they hung him on a cross. The truth is, everything on Jesus’ list of where to look has to do with today we’d call health care or helping the poor. Those were contentious topics back then, and they are contentious topics today. Every preacher and every congregation knows that. New Testament scholar Tom Long puts it this way: "Anyone who expects the work of God or the work of Christ’s church to be safe and free of controversy simply misunderstands the nature of Christ’s mission in the world." This looking for Jesus is blessed and holy and the most life-changing thing there is in the world; just don’t think the way is always agreeable or that everyone will be joyful when you find Jesus. Blessed, he says, is anyone who takes no offense at me."

Are you looking for Jesus? He’s wherever the hungry are fed, wherever the disabled are accommodated, wherever bodies and spirits are cared for and healed, wherever people find new life. That’s where we can look for Jesus.

And what if others are looking for Jesus--where might they look? You may know that the New Testament considers John the Baptist to be the prophet Elijah, preparing the way for Jesus. Barbara Taylor tells this story about Elijah. Jews have a tradition of setting a place at the Passover feast for Elijah, the prophet who is to bring them the good news that the Messiah has come. At a poignant moment in the service, the door is flung open for Elijah and everyone looks with anticipation. For thousands of years that door has been opened, and for thousands of years all that has entered has been the wind.

One Hasidic story tells of a pious Jew who asked his rabbi, "For forty years I have opened the door for Elijah every Passover, but he never comes. What is the reason?" The rabbi answered, "In your neighborhood there lives a very poor family with many children. Call on the man and propose to him that you and your family celebrate the next Passover at his house, and for this purpose provide for him and his family everything needed for the Passover. Then on Passover night Elijah will come."

The man did as the rabbi told him, but after Passover he came back and said that he still hadn’t seen Elijah. The rabbi answered, "I know very well that Elijah came on Passover night to the house of your poor neighbor. But of course you could not see him." And the rabbi held a mirror before the face of the man and said, "Look, this was Elijah’s face that night."4

If others—perhaps the lame or blind, perhaps the stranger, the spiritually wounded, the poor—are looking for Jesus, show him to them, won’t you?

1 See Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 126.

2 Song lyrics by Mark Lowry and Buddy Green.

3 Long, 125.

4 Barbara Brown Taylor, Mixed Blessings (Atlanta: Susan Hunter Publishing, 1986), 57.

 

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