Isaiah 35, 1-6,10 + Psalm 146 + James 5, 7-10 + Matthew 11, 2-11
Matthew, the “Gospel of Beatitudes” adds another to the list begun in Chapter Five: “Blessed are those who take no offense at me.”
It may seem a little difficult at first to imagine taking offence at Jesus. How could anyone take offence at someone who gives sight to the blind, cleanses lepers, and raises up the dead? Yet, Matthew would not have repeated that response to John’s question had it not been so. People did take offense, and people still do. Our challenge is to make sure we do not, and open our hearts wide enough to the presence of Jesus and his message to reach out to those who have. I believe that in this episode, John the Baptist was at the threshold of taking offense.
In my imagination, I have always pictured John trapped in Herod’s prison being sustained and comforted by some of his followers brave enough to maintain their relationship with him. Think of it. There he is in prison: John, the one who Baptized Jesus, who called Jesus to his mission, recognized him as the Lamb of God, who insisted he was not worthy to loosen the straps of his sandals obviously being ignored and abandoned by the very one he first acclaimed. Where is Jesus when you need him? Why does he do all these great things for others, even those outside the family of Judaism, and leave John suffering in that miserable place? John has been preparing the way for the Messiah who would set everything right!! Now look at what he gets: a longer wait. Maybe time to rethink his ideas about this Messiah and how it is all going to work out.
We have all been there, dangerously close to taking offence at Jesus, and we all know some who have. The consequence of their offence is discouragement, disbelief, anger, hurt, and even disinterest. Yet the words of Jesus call all of this into question, and reflecting upon them once again in this Advent Season might move us more safely among the Blessed.
It is not just a matter of “taking offence” at the historical Jesus whose nice story of healing and forgiving is easy to take. It is also a matter of listening to what he says and what he demands of his followers in terms of compassion, forgiveness, and generosity. It is a matter of caring for the poor at the cost of one’s own convenience, comfort, and security. It is a matter of welcoming strangers and organizing one’s priorities in such a way that God’s will comes before self-will. It is a matter of making repentance and conversion a way of life, not just a single event. Suddenly, it is possible to take offence at Jesus because his teaching and his demands are offensive to our way of thinking and acting.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a video clip of Rush Limbaugh announcing with more pomposity and certitude than any Roman Pontiff in history could ever have managed that Pope Francis was a Maxsist! To prove his point, he then proceed to quote from the most recent Encyclical. Now that is taking offence in your face! The Pope is not offended; but there seem to be some who take offence at his teaching rooted in and proclaiming the teachings of Jesus Christ. Any threat or question raised about the justice of some economic systems seems to cause offense. Taking the teaching of the church, again rooted in Jesus Christ’s, to insist that not killing means more than being opposed to abortion causes some to take offence when their support of capital punishment is challenged. The examples could go on and on, but it is sometimes a much more personal matter that causes offense.
When prayers are not answered with the expected outcome, offense if taken. When God asserts the control over this earth and life leaving us “out of control” offense is taken. If sickness comes and death before we think it should, sometimes offense is taken. When relationships collapse that we thought might last a life-time, when someone betrays or even when someone trusted sins and fails to live up to expectations we set for them, offense is taken.
“Blessed are those who take no offense at me.” Is a challenge and a comfort just as much as “Blessed are the Poor. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers in Chapter Five.
Hope is what they are blessed with.
Hope is what is promised.
Hope is the heart of this Season.
Hope that all will be well.
Hope that because of God’s love for us
those who have chosen a life of repentance and conversion
will reach out to those have taken offense with love and understanding.
There is Hope that God will make all things right for those who seek to know and do the Will of God.
There is Hope when things go wrong, and Hope when we are called to let go of ideas, systems, and old ways of doing things and thinking.
Most of all there is Hope when we open ourselves up to the power of God to accomplish what we cannot,
to fulfill what was begun long ago,
and to dry our tears,
lift up the fallen,
and welcome those who have strayed, embracing again those who have taken offense.