Wednesday, December 14, 2011

stop making it about us

There's something in us as human beings that needs to know that the impossible is possible. Have you ever thought about that? You need to know that you're not restricted to the boundaries of time and space and possibility. And that's really what's going on in this reading today. John is asking of Jesus, 'Are you the one? Are you the Messiah?'. And Jesus doesn't give him a kind of a theological expose on his Messianic qualities, he just says 'Do you know what, John? The impossible is happening. And that, we imagine that when the news gets back to John, that's what we imagine fills his heart with hope. Yes, the one we've been expecting is here. He's on his way. What's the impossible in your own life that you need God to do? What's the impossible that you're still waiting for?
24-7 Spaces 2011 Advent videos, day 6

First, the passage.

Matthew 11:2-6
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

The lady speaking the video is using the rather questionable The Message version of this passage, with some problematic wording in places. But that may be something for later. It is her own statements that are here in question.

For example, she says that we humans need to know that the impossible is possible. Not sure where that is ever stated, or where it may be at in the Bible. Very likely, what is considered "impossible" is not really impossible; for example, me getting an ace while playing disc golf. It's not impossible, but considering that I'm a rather bad player who rarely even gets birdies, an ace is very unlikely.

Now, God healing a person, very possible. God made us, God is all-powerful, Him healing the sick or raising the dead is very possible for Him. He made the worlds simply be speaking, healing an ear drum or skin disease would be no problem.

What, then, is the issue? God is a person, He has a will, He decides what He will do. If God wants to heal a person, He can do so, and whether they believe in Him or not, or have faith that He can do so or not, is not an issue. God does not need your permission to heal you or anyone else.

To sound like your annoying grade-school English teacher, it's not a question of "Can God heal?", because He certainly can, but "Will God heal?".

But, what is this reading, this passage, about? It's for sure not about God being able to do the impossible for us.

First, it's not about us. It's not that we can't learn something it, but the people mentioned in the passage are John, Jesus, and some of John's disciples. I don't see myself in it, nor do I see the lady in the video, nor any of the rest of us.

Now, let's see Jesus' answer. He lists some things that He was doing--healing people, raising the dead, and preaching the good news to the poor. The lady in the video seems to think there is not much theological in it.

By contrast, let me take a bit from a commentary on Matthew.

Jesus shows a tactful kindness in dealing with the questioners: No sharp rebuke for their tardiness in acknowledging Him, no dogmatic reply to cause resentment. He appeals to their and their master’s knowledge of the Old Testament prophecy concerning the characteristic work of the Messiah. They could believe the evidence of their eyes and ears: The blind were receiving sight, the lame were cheerfully walking about, the deaf were enabled to hear, the dead were being awakened, the poor were being gospeled, were receiving the glad message of their salvation through the preaching of Jesus, Is. 35:4-6; 61:1-2; Ezek. 36 and 37.
Dr. Paul Kretzmann (0101-01-01 00:00:00+00:00). The Popular Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Kindle Locations 2768-2772). Pirate Christian Media. Kindle Edition.

Let's look at some of the passages he references here.

Isaiah 35:4-6
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.

Isaiah 61:1-2
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;

The commentator points out that Jesus' list is of the things that are "the characteristic work of the Messiah", a far cry from what the lady in the video said about it not being "a kind of a theological expose on his Messianic qualities". It seems that Jesus, then, is not just giving a random list of his deeds, but rather pointing out to the disciples of John and to John himself that He was doing the things that the prophets had said the Messiah would do. It was, to that effect, a very theological expose.

To make this passage about what supposedly impossible thing we need God to do for us is to absolutely cheapen the message in it, that Jesus is confirming to John and these disciples that He was indeed the one they had been waiting for, the Messiah, the Christ.

Indeed, John, who it could was in need of some impossible things happening, was not going to have those impossible things happen. He was in prison, and Jesus was not going to do the impossible things for him by somehow breaking him out of prison. John was going to be beheaded, and Jesus was not going to find his body and bring him back to life. Jesus was not telling John to expect anything impossible like that.

Rather, Jesus was going to do the thing closest to the impossible that any person could imagine. A God who could create the universe with just His words, who could cause the sun to stop in the sky and even go backwards at one point, who did the wonders in Egypt, what could be so difficult for Him? But the redemption of mankind, the forgiveness of our sins, the saving of our souls, that took the breaking of the body of the Son of God. Let mankind find a cure for any disease imaginable, let man use science to make the human body as perfect as possible, yet this one thing, the forgivenss of sins, would be far beyond anything man could do to accomplish. That is the thing Christ did for us, by sacrficing Himself for us.

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