Isaiah 35, 1-6, 10 + Psalm 146 + James 5,7-10 + Matthew 11, 2-11
December 11, 2016 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and John sits in a prison from which he will not escape alive. You can almost sense the frustration or the maybe the doubt of John and his disciples who have come to Jesus with that question. In more simple terms, the question is not so much about the identity of Jesus as messiah, but more about what kind of messiah he really is. “Where is the fire?” is what they really want to know.
In Isaiah 34 there is described a saving God of vengeance and anger, of harsh judgement and destruction who wields a mighty sword dripping with blood withering figs and vines slaughtering oxen and bulls. Then in Isaiah 35 there is another description that suggests a God who comes to strengthen the feeble, make firm knees that are weak, open the eyes of the blind. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and people will come to this God singing with joy and gladness. Sorrow and mourning will flee.
The issue that is addressed at this critical moment is, “Which one is it going to be?” Which kind of God is to be revealed and how will his presence be known: by angry violence and harsh judgments or by a gentle healing touch drawing people in joy and in peace? In that conversation with John’s disciples, the matter is settled. It will not be vengeance and anger, fire and the sword. It will be mercy and peace. People will not flee in fear of God, but come running in joyful song. John would have had it one way. Jesus will have it another way, but these verses, clear as they are, do not seem to have settled the matter quite yet.
There are still some who do not quite seem to get what Jesus has come to reveal, who still do not understand or believe that this God promised in Isaiah 35 is the real God not the one some had hoped would come and destroy all the unfaithful. Today they are the ones who look at violence and tragedies and become angry demanding to know, “Where is your God?” or “Why doesn’t God do something about that?” Failing to understand that our God is the victim hanging on a cross, that our God is suffering too in, with, and through anyone who is hurt, in pain, and suffering. They are the ones who use religion to justify their intolerance, alienate those who are different and condemn anyone who does not agree with their opinions or their interpretation of facts. They want a God who is made in their image, hard of heart and quick to judge. Jesus will not have it so.
Jesus reveals a God who suffers, who is slow to anger and quick with mercy. Jesus reveals a God willing to wait for an ungrateful wayward son to come home without changing the locks or barring the door. Jesus reveals a God whose grace and love embraces a Samaritan woman, tax collectors, and responds with compassion to an enemy Roman centurion whose servant is at death’s door. This then is a God who forgives while being nailed to a cross, a God who stays on that cross to set us free pouring out his life that we might live.
With this God we can face every disappointment, tragedy, and test of our faith without fear, for we are not alone. “Blessed is the person who does not lose faith” says Jesus. Sometimes bewildered, numbed, and powerless by terrorism, war, and genocide we wonder where God is, and hear again, “Blessed is the person who does not lose faith.” Scandalized and hurt by the grave sins against children by people we have trusted; we hear again the words: “Blessed is the person who does not lose faith.” Parents have seen their children give up the practice of the faith in spite of having given them encouragement and good example. For them it is a great pain, and great sadness. They must hear again: “Blessed is the person who does not lose faith.”
Faith is a fragile thing. We must not be surprised when doubts arise within us. Even the greatest man born of a woman felt the same way and experience some doubt. God does understand this world and all that can happen within it. Yet, Blessed are we if we do not lose faith in Jesus, and twice blessed are we, if like Jesus, we can show forth that faith in love and in mercy.