I don’t know if you remember way back when you were a kid on the playground at lunch trying to decide what game you were going to play together… let play this… nah we did that last week, I don’t want to… hey what about this… no that’s too boring…yes there were favourites but it changed from day to day… and the bell could go without a decision being made or after a very unsatisfyingly small amount of time actually doing something fun.
or if you remeber being teenagers and getting together to try and decide what you were going to do on a Friday Night or sunny Sunay afternoon.
My son Isaac says that in his class at school they have a playlist of music that they are allowed to have when they are working by themselves. He says you never get music that everyone likes. He says he’s part of a small group in his class who likes old people’s music, and when he says that he doesn’t mean classical stuff or show tunes and crooners, he means stuff that isn’t in the current top forty, "you know dad," he says, "the kind of stuff that you listen to…" but the play list is diverse because the whole class never agrees which is the right music for them…
This is the kind of thing that Jesus uses in the parable that he finishes his reflections on how people had responded to John and Jesus different styles of ministry … that this generation was like a group of children who couldn’t choose which music they wanted to listen to, what kind of game to play. John was too austere and strict so they wrote him of as having a demon, Jesus would sit down and enjoy a meal with anyone so they wrote him off as a drunkard and glutton and a friend of sinners. But says Jesus wisdom will be proved true by all her children… those who are truly about God’s purposes despite their style will prove God right in what they do.
This reflection on how people had responded to John and Jesus ministry comes at the end of the third of four encounters with Jesus that are recorded in Luke chapter 7. Four close encounters with God’s revolution of grace. This long unit records John the Baptists encounter with Jesus. Again like the two previous encounters it is full of the miraculous; Jesus heals many people, but the focus in the narrative is on the person who captures Jesus attention. We saw the surprising faith ofthe gentile centurion, Jesus compassion for the widow at Nain and here we see Jesus minister to John the Baptist in his difficult situation, as he wrestles with who Jesus is… ‘are you the one or should we expect someone else?’ And like the previous encounters amidst this we are shown more of the character and identity of Jesus.
This long passage is split into three sub sections. We see Jesus dealing with John’s enquires about Jesus then in verses 21-28 we have Jesus affirmation of John the Baptist’s ministry and finally in 29-35 we have a parable where Jesus explains why certain people had not responded to either John’s ministry or Jesus: Affirming that both proved the wisdom of God.
This narrative is directly connected to what has gone before. We finished the passage last week with news of Jesus ministry and miracles going out to the whole region, and we start this week with John the Baptist’s disciples bringing them to him. After John had baptised Jesus we are told that he was arrested and imprisoned
Rather than simply affirm that yes Jesus is the Messiah, with Jesus it’s not about making claims of status or position but rather that people see the compassionate things that God is doing. Jesus invites them to see and hear what he is doing. We get an account of Jesus preaching and the miracles that he performs, and having seen and heard Jesus sends them back to john to report what they have seen. The report is couched in terms that echo the prophecies in the book of Isaiah about the messianic age. They point to the fact that yes he is the messiah but his messiahship is different than John’s expectations. Jesus does not criticise John for his questioning rather he uses it to open John’s eyes more to the scope of Jesus identity and mission. Jesus finishes his reply with beatitude ‘blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of me’… It’s not a rebuke but a gracious encouragement of trust in Jesus.
When John’s disciples have left, it tells us that Jesus addressed the crowd and he affirms John’s Ministry. He asks the crowd why did they go out in the wilderness to see John, was it because of the scenery, the reeds waving in the wind or because John was such a flashy dresser, no they went because he was a prophet, someone who spoke God’s word… calling Israel back to God and to demonstrate that in ethical living. Jesus affirms John as a prophet and goes beyond that to acknowledge that he is the one that the scriptures had said would prepare the way for God’s salvation, God’s messiah. John holds a special place in salvation history, he is the herald of a new era in what God is doing. Jesus affirms his greatness in human history and then affirms that the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. In Jesus we have what john and all of the scriptures were looking forward towards. The ultimate identity for us is in Christ.
Finally Jesus addresses the different ways that people would respond to John’s ministry and Jesus. Almost as an aside Luke tells us that the tax collectors and sinner had responded by seeing God’s word in John’s ministry and Jesus words. They had repented and been baptised, the kingdom of God was for these people as they acknowledged their spiritual poverty. The Pharisees and the experts in the law had rejected John so they rejected Jesus also. And Jesus sums this generation up with a parable. The religious people of the day wouldn’t respond to the austerity of John or the joyful acceptance of Jesus because John and Jesus wouldn’t simply join in their religious games or dance to their tunes. They judged them because of the style of ministry they had and wrote them off, rather than hearing the word and wisdom of God. But despite these different approaches wisdom ,which in the proverbs eight is a feminine picture of God, would be justified by all her children, it wasn’t the style it was the transformed lives and the substance of their ministry that counted.
Well how do we encounter God’s grace revolution in this narrative today? And this wonderful cartoon that was shared on facebook from St Columba’s in Taradale this week sums up the challenge of taking a biblical text and applying it to our context today.
Firstly, Jesus summary of people’s response to John and Jesus ministry speaks to us as the church today. We can be divided and caught up with style of ministry… the chandelier swinging, hand clapping, tongue speaking, and loud music pumping Pentecostals right through to the high church chanting, rigid liturgy mumbling, hymn singing traditionalists. The happy Smiling even before their first cup of coffee hallelujah brother-ers and the deep dourer sincere and I wonder if they’ve been sucking lemon devout. We can get caught up in the style of ministry and forget that the proof of God’s wisdom is in the substance of The things for us are to be open to what God wants to do and be steadfast about the purposes of God.
The second thing, and what spoke to me in this passage was how Jesus dealt with John’s questioning, his doubt, or as a Korean pastor in a small bible study I have on Monday nights put it in explaining a Korean word to me his down hearted moment. Jesus does not meet his expectations of what the messiah should do… Do you have times when Jesus does not meet your expectations?
I found it heartening and encouraging knowing that such a great man of faith as John the Baptist could wrestle with discouragement and doubt. John’s ministry had led him to prison, it wasn’t all success and joy, and could he have also been wrong about Jesus? One of the great things about the scripture is that they are very honest and open about such things. The Psalms are full of the most heartfelt doubts about God… where are you God, have you gone home and put your feet up in front and dozed off in front of the TV?
Jesus is very accepting of John’s honest questioning; the difference between unhealthy doubt and healthy doubt is that we are open to God’s answer. Jesus invites John’s disciples to be with him and to see what he is doing. We see Jesus willing to show them and open their eyes to a new understanding of who Jesus is.
I get discouraged sometimes and in those times I find that I’m often drawn to accounts or encounters with people who will share their stories with me of God’s grace and goodness, of transformation and new life. I’m not ashamed to say they bring me to tears of joy as I see what god is doing. Sometimes it’s just little things, in our prayer course group we’ve seen some answers to prayer, a house sell that had been on the market for over a year, a friend of a person in the group whose relationship is rocky asking the group member were you praying for us because we had the best of days yesterday all the tension was gone…not a total fix but a glimpse and possibilities of God presence and healing. In the face of terror and fear, reading stories of Middle Eastern Christians helping in refugee camps, of people still willing to open doors and homes to refugees despite the best efforts of ISIS to make us afraid.
It’s also encouraging to know that Jesus actually understands our work for him. He affirms us for what we do for him. He affirms John the Baptist in a profound way. In New Zealand this week we’ve had time to stop and reflect on the life of a great All Black Jonah Lomu, and the stories of his character and exploits have been wonderful…he’s a very public figure, and people have lauded him as a humble giant, willing to spend time with anyone, to help and to care as well as being an awesome rugby player. Jesus sees who we are and acknowledges and affirms us. And while we may wish for success and status and accolades from people around us, there is also the affirmation that the greatest identity and affirmation we can have is that we are in Christ, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that God raises up the little ones and we have been adopted into the family of the most high.The last piece of encouragement is the affirmation that people actually responded to Jesus and John by both coming to God and also by rejecting them and totally getting them wrong. But in the end Wisdom is proved right by all her children… The encouragement is not to simply play religious games or dance to the tune of this generation but to be about the purposes of God.