Dad and Granddaddy were in the den arguing. The thin smoke trails from Granddaddy’s Winstons intertwined with the thin smoke wisps from Dad’s Salem Menthols. Two large dragons lurched once this way and then that way. They were locked in the age-old act of Dad’s latest lie being found out by Granddaddy. Granddaddy thrust intense efforts into forcing a confession from Dad. The word exchange was harsh, angry, hurtful, and ended with Dad leaving the house as Granddaddy shouted after him, “Julian, you wouldn’t know the truth if it jumped up and bit you on the ass.”
The argument for Granddaddy was a quest for recognition. And it all began with a question along the lines of, “Julian, I know what it was, what you’ve done, but what should you have done?”
The question bit down hard on Dad. Recognition does, at times, bite down hard on us, doesn’t it?
The disciples of John share such a moment with Jesus, born into being from a question borne from the mouth of John. It all goes down like this in Matthew 11:2-11:
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. (NRSV)
The interchange gets kicked off by the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
All around God’s Church preachers and teachers are going to paint this as a question of confusion, disillusionment, disenchanted despair, or perhaps even disdain, but isn’t this truly simply a question of recognition? It is possible that despair or confusion might be faithful fuel for the question, but what we really have here is simply the age-old question of recognition.
We ought to know this recognition question well for we ask it 10,000,000,000 different ways:
“Am I a real estate professional, or should I be a pastor?”
“Am I single, or should I be married?”
“Is this who I am, or am I another?”
“Is she/he ‘the one,’ or do I wait for another?”
John’s question is our question, isn’t it? And doesn’t it all come down to recognition?
Granddaddy might bark at John, “Boy, you wouldn’t know Messsiah if Messiah bit you on the ass!” What Granddaddy’d be saying by this is, “Wake Up! Pay Attention! Recognize!” In other words, Granddaddy’d sum up the contents of Advent 1A and 2A through one cheeky quip to nail down Advent 3A.
But quip or no quip, John’s imprisoned, soon to be beheaded. John’s crying wilderness voice is a crying incarcerated voice. John’s prophetic profession is now a recognition question.
Is it any different with us? When things are humming along we bear prophetic profession but when we’re crammed into the prison block we soon toss recognition questions, don’t we?
That’s what we do. That’s what John does.
John sends disciples to ask,
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
And Jesus does what Jesus almost always does—-turns the question. John tosses a dead-end question and Jesus turns it into a life-giving 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.”
The day you saw yourself as worthy, beautiful, magical, amazing, rather than lackluster, worn, valueless, on that day the blind received their sight. Messiah appeared.
The day you stepped away from the addiction, or the lie, or the illness that held you back, bound you fast, kept you from moving, on that day the lame walked. Messiah appeared.
The day you embraced the gift that is you warts and all, received yourself as a gift, laid hold of the truth that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, accepted yourself as you are, on that day the lepers were cleansed. Messiah appeared.
The day you heard that the words about you, words you’d believed, are not the truth of you, and you heard the story of you with hope and promise, on that day the deaf began to hear. Messiah appeared.
The day you knew and believed that God is not done with you, that there is more to come, that there is so much more grace and mercy, forgiveness and love, than you ever imagined possible, on that day the dead were raised. Messiah appears.
And on the day when love comes to you, overpowers you, tumbles you, and it seems that such love could never come to you at any price, on that day the poor received good news. Messiah appears.
And in the face of this, can any offense be taken? Only if we want for recognition.
Messiah appears and we know it by what we see and hear. Look at your life. Listen to your life. The signs are there. And you know it, don’t you? You don’t need the truth to jump up and bite you on the ass; for to you, God’s kingdom is come near.