Finding the Lessons

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent 3, Year A


Anathea Portier-Young, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Duke Divinity School,Durham, NC


Matthew 11:2-11
Painting of a prison by Francisco de Goya
y Lucientes, 1810-1814, Bowes Museum.
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

7As 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? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.


A Little Bit for Everyone

Some interesting articles on this passage:


Prayer
Give us strength for witnessing, that we may go and tell others what we see and hear.  Give us patience for waiting, until the precious harvest of your kingdom, when the return of your Son will make your saving work complete.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts
We have skipped to the end of the second major section of the Gospel of Matthew in order to continue with the theme of John the Baptist and his relationship with Jesus. While our reading for today does not include the whole pericope it is important to note that Jesus has been offering his missiology, his missionary vision for the reign of God.  The framework of Jesus’ teaching was to go to the “lost sheep of Israel.”(10:6) Jesus is giving instruction and continuing the overarching Gospel message that the Word and its proclamation include action. As we saw in last week’s reading the action was repentance: change of heart, mind and place.  Now in the preaching of the reign of God we see action as proclamation of the reign of God, healing, raising, cleansing and casting out.  Jesus has finished giving his orders and he has sent the disciples out to teach and preach – to act out the mission.

It is in this important framework of mission, the word is spreading from city to city, that we arrive at the first verse of today’s Gospel reading. John is in prison. He hears of the work being done.  John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?”  Most every scholar I read this week showed an interest in how out of sync this question seems to be with the proclamation made by John the Baptist.  The premodern scholars too, ask similar questions.  The themes of doubt, disappointment and disillusionment are present throughout the scholarly wrestling with the text.  Perhaps it is a crisis of faith. Maybe it is the narrator’s desire to distance John from Jesus’ ministry.  It seems to me though to go too far down this road of inquiry (while Biblically fascinating) can lead us to miss Jesus’ answer: “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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus then continues teaching them and reminds them of the image of the prophet and the message of transformation.  He says:

“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Our translation does something interesting here in verse 11.  Perhaps you are using a Bible that translates it differently, too.  In the translation by Daniel J. Harrington (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 157) he believes Jesus is saying, “Amen.”

Harrington also writes:
The assessment of John is prefaced by “Amen” – an indicator of special solemnity on Jesus’ part. His saying assumes that John does not participate in the kingdom of heaven, that is, he belongs to a different stage in the history of salvation (see Luke 16:16 [The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until the time of John] for a similar schema).  John may be the greatest figure of the past.  But from Jesus’ perspective he belonged to another age.

As I meditated on this passage this week I wondered what age has passed for our church. I too think it is the age of prophecy.  We have, for many recent years, spent our time prophetically calling the world to change.  This era of prophecy was captured best when one political leader remarked the world had changed from the time when the Presiding Bishop was sitting in the Oval Office to a time when the Presiding Bishop was across on the lawn picketing the actions of the Oval Office.  To everything there is a season.  John’s question and Jesus’ answer tell us of a season of proclamation and prophetic work that prepared the way for the incarnation.  Jesus is saying that season is over, this is the season of incarnation, of the reign of God.  Perhaps the challenging message for our congregations today is the message that as communities that have received the prophetic Word, we are to be at work in the world.  You and I are to be in the world and at work in the world incarnating Christ’s love, community and transformation.  It is time for action on behalf of God’s people. It is a time when the church must enter a new age, an age where it is known not for what it says, but for what it does.


The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
     Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website: http://www.dcdiocese.org/word-working-second-question

Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.
9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

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