Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Matthew 11

John the Baptist, man of the desert and prophet of God, makes his reappearance in the Gospel. John has been thrown in prison for challenging the King. The King in question, who was Jewish, had taken his brother's wife and married her. Under Jewish law this would be forbidden, even if she had been divorced. John is thrown in prison. I find it difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the man of the desert (John) to have to live in a hole (in the dungeon) without the sky overhead or the sun on his face. From prison, John hears of Jesus ministry and sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask the critical question: "are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" The problem, of course, is that John has already identified Jesus as the "Lamb of God" who takes away the sins of the world. John has already borne witness to the Holy Spirit and the voice of God. Why does he ask the question? Some speculate that he is just being sure and wants Jesus to remember him. Others speculate that the man of the desert is having a down time and is looking for assurance. Still others speculate that the purpose of the question is so that his (John's) disciples will move on and become followers of Jesus now.

Jesus response is not to explain it to the disciples. Jesus response is: go and tell John what you see and hear and then demonstrates a litany of things: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor hear the good news! A cursory study of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that these are all happenings that are attributed to the time of the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus is essentially saying to John -- "Yes I am the one, no need to look further."

The cities mentioned in the sequence of woes (20-24) no longer exist. Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum are all archeological sites today and, other than passers through are no longer vital cities or communities.

The chapter ends with the famous: come to me all you who are weary and heaven burdened and I will give you rest. Jesus is speaking of their heavy religious burdens -- the burden of trying to be in perfect compliance with the law. Notice, he says take my yoke upon you and learn from me. Jesus reminds us that in him is grace and forgiveness and through that relationship is the ability for us to live free.

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