The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
When John’s messengers had gone, 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? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”
I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.”
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’
I was gripped by the BBC series HMS Vigil shown last autumn. It was based on a submarine that was being pursued, had been infiltrated by a spy, and where poison was found on board. Those with a naval background may well have picked holes in the plot: it’s not real, it couldn’t happen, it’s a drama for TV!
In his commentary ‘The Medical Gospel of Luke’ NHS doctor A.T Bradford writes about the different healing miracles that Jesus performs. He considers the Greek word for both chronic and acute diseases: ‘nosos’ (a long, ongoing illness or infirmity) or the work of evil spirits ‘poneros’. The second century physician, Galen of Pergamon, described ‘poneros’ as the quick onset of poison and the need to act fast with a remedy.
All the conversations about ‘Are you the one?’ and discussions on how to report back to John and those tripping over themselves wondering what they should do next, are distractions. For the poor referenced in the text, just staying alive was hard enough without the expectation of eight hours of study that the rabbis had to undertake. Jesus here is the renowned Torah teacher who brings good news – and they need that now.
For us there is no time to debate and discuss. It is time to act quickly and make a practical difference to people’s lives. There is a feeling of being tossed about: ‘A reed shaken by the wind’ or like being in a boat. Paul talks about being: ‘tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Ephesians 4:14).
Jesus spoke up for the poor and the vulnerable. It is urgent. There is no time to faff about in our debates and discussions. News of energy companies collapsing and wholesale prices rising is a crisis situation. Many won’t be able to switch suppliers let alone afford to heat their homes this winter or even afford basic foodstuffs!
Gracious God, time isn’t on the side of the poor and vulnerable. Time does not stand still for those who need support now. We remember those who cannot wait, who are just staying alive, day by day, whether blown about or standing still. May they be able to experience the abundance they deserve.
The harvest should be for all to enjoy.
‘The valleys stand so thick with corn that even they are singing’* Amen.
*R&S 53 To thee O Lord, our hearts we raise. Verse 2
The Revd Andrew Royal, Minister, Maidstone & Staplehurst URC’s