Or Was John Wrong?

Homily, Or Was John Wrong?
Third Sunday of Advent, Year A, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Tequesta, FL

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Have you ever been so sure about something—so sure, you told everybody you know, so sure, you made all your plans around it, so sure, you’d stake your life on it—only to later find yourself second guessing? 

Last week in our gospel reading we heard from John the Baptist, who was absolutely sure about something. He was so sure, he went out into the desert and lived as a wild man in preparation. He was so sure, he baptized people from all around Judea up and down the Jordan river so they’d be ready. He was so sure that when he drew the attention of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he yelled at them, “You brood of vipers! One is soon coming with an axe and a winnowing fork to get rid of all you who produce bad fruit!”

John’s conviction was so convincing that here we are 2,000 years later still listening to his testimony. And yet, last week we asked the question of whether John’s vision was actually accurate. Because for many of us all this talk of chopping down and separating doesn’t sound much like the Jesus we know. Does Jesus come with an axe? Or was John wrong? 

Well in today’s gospel, it seems our question has now become John’s question. Despite all of his fiery conviction last week, this week we encounter a somewhat deflated and defeated John. He’s been arrested for speaking out against the sins of the king, and is now in prison. And as he hears about Jesus’ ministry from the inside of those bars, he begins to have some doubts. This Jesus doesn’t look like what he expected. Where are the axes? Where are the winnowing forks? Why is the king still on the throne and he, John, still in prison? 

And so he sends some of his disciples to simply ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” In other words, “Where is your axe? Or was I wrong?”

Do you ever find yourself saying a prayer like that? “Jesus, is this really the way things are supposed to be? Is this really your plan? Is this really what you want for me?”

And so when John’s disciples ask his question to Jesus, Jesus replies, “Well, 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. Are you waiting for someone that does more than that?”

There are no axes in that list, and it’s not really an answer to the question, but it does put things into perspective doesn’t it? Sometimes we have such a clear and rigid expectation about what we think Jesus will do, that even when Jesus is doing all kinds of amazing work around us, we don’t see it. We’re so focused on what we think Jesus should do in our lives and in the world around us, that we miss what Jesus is actually doing in our lives and in the world around us. 

Was John wrong then?

Well, the passage goes on with Jesus calling John a prophet, a messenger, and the greatest of all those born of women. So he couldn’t have been entirely wrong. After all, he was right about the kingdom of heaven being near. He was right about someone who was to come. He was right about preparing the way. But even John didn’t see the full picture. Even John didn’t fully know what to expect. And so Jesus says, “Truly 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.” The least of those who can move beyond their expectations to receive Jesus as Jesus is is greater than he.

See, when Jesus comes, he doesn’t always come the way we expect. When Jesus comes, he does not come according to our presuppositions, our expectations, our assumptions about the way the world should be. He comes in unexpected ways. He comes as a baby in a messy manger. He comes as a friend to grubby sinners. He comes as a criminal on a bloody cross. Jesus comes, but not always in the ways we expect. 

And so to be ready for Jesus to come is to be ready for the unexpected.  

John’s vision wasn’t entirely wrong; it was simply incomplete. He could only see part of what was to come, and when Jesus came he had to reimagine what he thought Jesus’ mission would look like. He had to adapt his own view, reinterpret his own theology, shift his own perspective to match the bigger picture of what Jesus was doing. 

And so the question is not, “Was John wrong?” But “Was John willing to change his perspective?”

And that’s the question for us today. We can’t see the big picture. We don’t know all that Jesus is doing. And so in this Advent season as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus, are we willing to change what we believe about Jesus to match what Jesus believes? Are we willing to change the way we see the world, in order to see it what Jesus sees? Are we willing to change our perspective? Amen.