December 15, 2010

Advent 3A Homily - Offense

You can hear this homily here.

Or read it.

At five15 on Saturday evening, we talked about John’s change of heart. He had lept in his mother’s womb when the unborn Jesus entered the room inside his mother, Mary. John was Jesus’ cousin. They had to have known each other. John baptized Jesus, heard the voice of God, “this is my son, whom I love, listen to him.” He pointed Jesus out to his disciples and said, “this is the lamb of God, the one I’ve been telling you about.”
Today, however, we find John, maybe a year or so later, in prison. He had said the wrong things to the wrong people. He dared question the moral decisions of Herod. He crossed the power hungry Herodias. His days were surely numbered.
At some point, John began to wonder. Is Jesus who I thought he was? Is he really the Messiah or is he too just a harbinger of another one who is coming after us both? He had heard all the stories of what Jesus was doing. He’d heard that he was teaching, “repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” He knew he was healing the sick. He had calmed a storm in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. He was casting out demons, forgiving sins, even reaising people from the dead. But John was still sitting in prison. Why, if Jesus was the Messiah, was John still sitting in prison. So John sends a few of his disciples to find Jesus and ask, point blank, are you the one or not?
Jesus in a rare move, actually answers the question. “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.” Judge for yourself, John, this is what Jesus is doing. This is what the Messiah is doing. And then Jesus adds a strange warning to the end of his answer; an almost cryptic note to his cousin John, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Offense? Who is taking offense? Or as the NIV says, “blessed is the man who does not stumble on account of me.” Stumble? Was John beginning to stumble? Were others beginning to fall away on account of who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing? It seems as though they were. Why else would Jesus say this?
But as modern day Christians we don’t really get it. There is nothing on the list of Messiah work that is reason for us to get nervous about Jesus: “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.” It is all standard Jesus stuff to us.
But not to to the folks that Jesus was living with. To them, Jesus was going off the rails. Take, for example the first two outcast groups on Jesus’ list: the blind and the lame, known in Judaism as “those whom David hates.”
See in the book of Second Samuel we hear the story of David taking the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. As his troops were approaching the Jebusites called down to David and mocked him saying, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back.” Once David had taken Zion he declared, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.”
Apparently, over time this story led to a well known saying among the descendants of David, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.”
So, then, Jesus, in describing his Messiah-work opens the door by saying, those whom David hates are restored by me and made first in the kingdom of God. Ahead of John the Baptist, the reincarnation of Elijah. Ahead of the scribes and Pharisees. Ahead of the righteous and rich. Ahead of everyone comes the blind and the lame: those whom David hates.
Well of course people were turning back and taking offense. Jesus was turning the whole upside-down world right-side-up. He restored those who had been outcast since the Great King David took the city of Jerusalem.
If I’m honest with myself there are still people I wish Jesus would leave behind; people who I’ve deemed unworthy of God’s love. If I’m honest with myself there are probably people who see me as not worthy of God’s love either. Here, however, Jesus reminds us all that he came to seek and save the lost; even you and me. Thanks be to God that he has moved into our neighborhood and called us: blind, lame, leprous, deaf. dead, and poor to join him in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

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