Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ As they went away, 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 wear soft robes 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.” 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. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen! ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’ Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’ At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
Our reading today picks up the story of John the Baptist who was imprisoned in Macherus near the Dead Sea. We are told in Mark’s gospel that King Herod feared John knowing that he was “a righteous and holy man.” John lived as an ascetic, fasting and praying in the wilderness seeking out God. His was a message of repentance and his fame was likened as onto the prophet Elijah and his message a fulfilment of the messianic prophecies of Malachi and Isaiah about the Coming One. Herod the dissolute leader is contrasted with the courageous ascetic John.
John proclaimed a turning away from the ways from this world to an embracing of an inner spiritual change, which he fully expected would result in a change that would transform love into action saying that ‘the one who has two coats should share with those that have none, and who has food should do the same’. His then was a message of love and inner transformation that ultimately has its expression in action. John like Jesus was marginalised and ultimately like him was imprisoned and put to death.
Jesus the ‘carpenter’s son’ was rejected by his own village in Nazareth where he grew up, his message of love was not accepted in the cities either, it being rejected by those who held a narrow interpretation of the Jewish law. The poor living on the shores of Galilee were under Roman occupation and suffered under harsh taxes as well as being exploited by religious narrowness. The rich were clothed in ‘soft robes’ and the poor suffered. John and Jesus persisted with their message of love and were seen as a threat to the status quo. We see from history that those who oppressed the poor are ultimately doomed. God’s love overcomes the world.
Gracious God, We pray for those who feel crushed by the weight and burden of daily living and who have the marks in their bodies and mind of the strain of life. We pray for healing and for a sound mind for those who are troubled. We pray that the Holy Spirit will soothe their pain and that your word will give the gifts of wisdom and virtue to strengthen them today and every day. Amen
The Rev’d Raymond Singh, Retired Minister, St Andrews URC Brockley