“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight…blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Matt. 11: 4-6).
Today’s readings give voice to the idea of joyful expectation (hence, “Gaudete Sunday”) as Jesus invites the curious to judge by their own experience of his ministry.
The first set of readings from Isaiah come from chapter 35, which is considered to be from the first of three separate divisions in the book and from mouth of the historical Isaiah who prophesied under King Hezekiah, ca. 700 BCE, in the southern kingdom of Judah. In the midst of a long description of imminent salvation, the prophet declares:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
In God’s own time, things will be set right for the people of Israel and the world. No more divided kingdom. No more disabilities . No more suffering. No more violence. No more reality television. The Beatific Vision will be realized.
The second group of readings are from the letter of James, which most scholars believe to be from the historical James, brother of Jesus. Writing to Christians in the first century who were expecting the immediate return of Jesus, he claims:
Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Needless to say, the notion of Jesus returning to a single planet from an ordinary, 3rd generation star among 100 billion+ other stars in a spiral galaxy out of 100 billion+ other galaxies has its difficulties, but the idea of a future in which the universe is transformed into a place where the Beatific Vision in fully realized is the hope of all, regardless of worldview.
The gospel reading from Matthew portrays Jesus as confronting some of John’s disciples who are skeptical of the rumors they’ve heard concerning him.
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Given that John has already heard the divine voice affirming Jesus special status at his baptism (it’s third person “This is my beloved son…” in Matthew’s account), I consider this to be more historical than the theologized baptism explanation (“It’s I who need baptism from you…”) in Matthew which seeks to justify a somewhat perplexing fact that is stated in Mark: Jesus was apparently a follower of and baptized by John the Baptist. Jesus response invites them to judge for themselves and report back to John; he decides to let this actions speak for him. His indicators echo those of Isaiah in the first reading. He dares John’s disciples to see in his ministry a glimpse of the Beatific Vision.
I think we need more of that today. Whatever the context, don’t simply talk about your credentials; demonstrate them. Don’t simply talk about the gospel; live it. Jesus seems to respect the individual’s judgment of who he is over whatever he can say about himself. Experience is the best teacher. If our experience of something or someone is compelling, we will naturally want to share that with others.
Go and tell what you hear and see…