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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Luke 7:18-23

Have you ever been embroiled in a scandal? Scandals have little to do with fact; usually they erupt because people's expectations don't match with actual events OR with the inflated report of events. In our day of fake news, scandals have become commonplace. Much of what passes for news is in fact just the latest scandal, the manufactured outrage of expectation and disappointment.

Jesus sends the messengers who come from John back to him to report what they have seen and heard. People are being healed. That widow in Nain received her dead son back alive. Demons are being overthrown. Good news of God's kingly rule is being preached to the disenfranchised. Jesus ends the message with a curious statement: "Blessed is the one who is not offended by me." The Greek word for offended here is the word from which we get our English word "scandalized." Jesus realizes that he doesn't match people's expectations. The wine of his identity and ministry doesn't match the wineskins of people's expectations for a Messiah, and many people -- especially the keepers of the old wineskins -- will be scandalized, offended by him.

Even John the Baptist who announced Jesus to the people in the beginning is struggling. It is significant that the same question is repeated verbatim at the beginning of this section: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" The people had been waiting a long time, and anticipation ran high. John had been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. God himself had spoken to John and revealed this. But while Jesus was obviously a prophet and a healer with a potent message of God's kingship, he wasn't doing all those expected Messiah things -- restoring the glory of the nation, throwing off the Roman oppressors, purifying the temple.

It's easy to sympathize with John. He might well be in Herod's prison already at this time. At any rate he is seeing the movement he began shift its momentum from his prophetic baptism over to the wandering healer, Jesus. Has John run his race in vain? Did he in fact hear God incorrectly? Was the vision just his own imagining? If you have ever been in this position, believing that God has revealed himself to you in some specific way and then waiting, waiting, waiting for the vision to be accomplished, you may have felt that same pit-of-the-stomach fear John's question betrays. Come on, Jesus, get on about the business of being Messiah! Make it happen! Do it now!

Jesus' answer to John is instructive. Basically Jesus challenges John in return: Do you have eyes to see? Do you have ears to hear? Look what's going on around you. The movement is far greater than a warrior at the head of an army or a zealot demanding ethical conduct of the priesthood. In effect Jesus says, "I may not be good news for the leaders of political movements who are concerned about their own legacy -- but I am good news for the blind, the lame, the poor, the lepers. Are you willing to see your own need?" Next to Jesus' list in the margin of my Bible I've written "Spring 2017" and the brief note, "A season of being all these needy things." It is hard to live in that desperately needy place. It's hard to wait in pain. But for those who know their need, Jesus is good news. He fulfills the passage from Isaiah 61 he quoted at the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4) -- but like the people of Nazareth, John the Baptist has a different set of expectations.

The critical point for us is to see our own expectations clearly and bring them into line with Jesus. Yes, there is a chance we have mistaken the initial vision God gave, and so we are disappointed when Jesus doesn't fulfill it the way we would like. It is far more likely, however, if we have done our homework and prayerfully tested what we thought God was up to, that the vision God has given simply requires more time than we realized. What seems simple to us may be only one facet of a greater adventure into which God is leading us, and it may take more time to coordinate all those facets, to reveal all the different dimensions of wonder God is preparing for us. At the same time we ourselves are growing into the vision. When it first appeared, no matter what we thought at the time, we were probably not ready to receive it.

It's worth noting, too, that Jesus doesn't condemn John for his question. He will go on at some length to defend John in the coming verses.

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