When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus asnwered them, "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." Matthew 11:1-6
Advent is quite a ride. Last week we see John at the Jordan warning people that God's chosen anointed ("Messiah" in Hebrew, "Christ" in Greek) was upon them. Messiah would shake up the world, gather the grain into the bin and set the waste products (unprepared, unrepentant people???) on fire.
Messiah's winnowing fork is the equivalent of being run through a combine. Or a hay baler. Any farmer who has ever run either of these machines has at one time or another seen the unfortunate snake, rabbit or pheasant go through the machine. As a kid, I don't know how many rats and mice I saw hop into the feeder and go through the corn sheller.... Never saw any recognizable pieces come out with the corn, the husks or the cobs.
John is expecting action, unmistakable action. No person on earth can confuse fire with no fire. One burns. The other doesn't. And people know they'd better pay attention to John. He looks, dresses, eats and sounds like Elijah. And they know when Elijah shows up again it will be to inaugurate something like the Day of Yahweh. God gonna DO somethin' big!
So when John gets tossed into the slammer for having called murderous, immoral Herod on his behavior and liftestyle, he expects Jesus, the one whom he, John, had personally "anointed" with water there in the Jordan, to at last begin the campaign. "Let the conflagration begin! Nuke 'em, Big Guy!"
In a first century jail you don't get a cell with bunk, toilet and three squares. If you don't starve, it's only because your friends come to feed you--and bribe the corrupt guards every step of the way to do so. You're lucky if even crumbs get through.
But John has friends and followers. They come. John wants to know, "What's going on with Jesus? Has the revolution begun yet? Anything on fire?" They don't have anything like that to report, so John gets to the point. "Go ask Jesus himself. Are you the one, or are you going to turn out to be just like every other self-appointed false Messiah before?"
"I preached fire back there at the Jordan, Jesus. I was sure I had it right. I expected to see a clear/hold/build plan in place in the first weeks of your campaign. I expected to see a strategy to kick the Romans out of Judea by Passover and clear out of Galilee by Succoth next hear. I expected to see the heathen pagans and idolaters burning at the stake and the direct rule of Yahweh from center court of the temple. I expected fire, but so far I ain't even seein' any smoke."
"Are you the one, Jesus.....
or ain't you?????"
Jesus tells John's friends to report back what they hear and see. It's the same fulfillment of Isaiah 29:18-19, 35:5-6, 61:1 that got Jesus into such trouble in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4:18-19). They were about to kill him... Yep.
What upsets us so about a Messiah of grace and mercy as opposed to a Messiah of war? Why is it that Jesus inherits the titles Messiah/Christ and, in the words of Isaiah 9:6, "Prince of Peace"? Not Prince of War, Generalissimo Jesus.
Is it true that we believe so strongly in our ability to save and perfect ourselves that we would rather die, would rather kill, would rather go to war, would rather burn up the world and all of creation rather than see someone else get a break?
As my professor of Old Testament studies said once, "Our primal fear is that someone who doesn't deserve it will beat the system and get into heaven anyway."
We ought to ponder that statement a long while, especially in Advent, especially with John's questions echoing in our ears. Especially with Jesus' answer.......