Imprisoned in Herod’s fortress John the Baptist now faces his own wilderness.
Last week we read that this wild prophet supported people in their wilderness, providing water of renewal. Clear-sighted and confident, John had then announced God’s entering the world. Now, in prison, some time later, having heard of “the deeds of the Christ”, John asks Jesus through his disciples: Are you the one to come or shall we look for another?
We can never really historically know what John’s question meant. Matthew uses it to help his communities of faith, around 80AD, to deal with the crisis of their faith as they now realise Jesus is not coming in their life time, and that they are experiencing strong opposition from Jewish communities in their context.
1. John’ s question of faith becomes their question. And from this we learn for ourselves that faith always includes seeking new understanding in each new context and time of our lives.
2. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Faith is a movement and a happening, it is life, it is influenced by history and events, joy and suffering, it is fulfilled life (Gerhard Ebeling: The nature of faith, 21)
A dynamic, growing faith, develops new language and images in each culture to make sense of God’s unseen presence in the world.
3. When John’s questioning faith inquires of Jesus if he is the one who is from God, what is Jesus’ reply?
Go tell John what you hear and see: it is the story of liberation of needy and hurt people, of good news for the poor. It damns no one to hell: not for their sexuality, their gender, their class, their race or religion.
Matthew 11 constructs a new faith-language which emphasised that God’s new order is emerging in the history of Jesus as a sign of God’s being with humanity, against and contrary to the political and religious order of the Herod’s of the world.
Equally, this means that faith seeks understanding in each new time and place with new insights, language and images, those that emerge out of our new contexts and reflections.
In her book Shall we look for another? A feminist rereading of the Matthean Jesus, Elaine Wainwright suggests that remaking and reshaping faith has already begun in Matthew’s communities:
For the house-churches of Matthew it was not titles (Son of God, Lord etc), names, symbols or metaphors that finally answered John’s question, but it was what was seen and heard, the deeds. And this reign of God with which Jesus is connected was not exclusive. It had drawn in both women and men, girls and boys, ethnic outsiders and insiders, clean and unclean (Matthew 8, 9). It was imaged as a [new social, cultural, political and economic order] quite unlike that of Rome, which was grounded in the patriarchal and hierarchical family or household structures according to status. Status, ethnicity, and gender were beginning to be constructed or read differently in these communities. (70)
John and Jesus are constructed open-endedly, as a sign of God’s gracious and subversive being with humanity…faith is always openness and newness, creating inclusive, compassionate communities.
Rev Vladimir Korotkov