When We Cannot See

by susan on December 12, 2016

Words for the Journey – – Sunday, December 11th

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 offense 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. – Matthew 11:2-11, NRSV

Where are you right now – – in the world, in life, on your spiritual journey?
What limits your view – – of what’s happening, of the future, of what’s possible?

I will never forget when Kevin and I arrived for our first visit to the McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. We were there because we were seriously considering selling our house, quitting our jobs and moving to Atlanta – all because I was feeling called into vocational ministry.

We arrived with some excitement, but also with a handful of reservations. It felt like we were taking a big risk, We wanted to be honest about our concenrs, so we began sharing them with the Dean of Admissions. That is when he broke out in the most annoying grin and even chuckled as he told us he’d heard this story & these same concerns many times before. He encouraged us to just watch as something magic unfolded.

What. a. jerk – a jerk who ended up being right – although I still refuse to call it “magic”.

He was not standing where we were standing. He was looking & listening from a different place. He could see & hear something we could not see & hear.

I imagine by this point in Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist (whom I will refer to as John from here on out) is feeling the discomfort of being in a very different place than when we encountered him last week. Remember, he started as the highly anticipated son of a priest and then left home to live & preach in the wilderness. Well, things have taken another drastic turn. Now he’s in prison.

We are not told here, but it was likely Herod who had him imprisoned. It’s not hard to imagine why. After all, he was causing quite a stir and his anti-institutional ways probably displeased religious & Roman officials.

Just imagine.
His open air preaching: over.
His flood of baptisms: done.
His stream of followers: gone.
His future: dismal.

You can sense the desperation in John’s question. You can feel the concern and even the disappointment. The man who could see more clearly than anyone was now alone, disconnected & unable to see.

His mind must have been overflowing with questions.

Was I wrong about just how near the kingdom really was?
Was I wrong about everything?
Did I misunderstand?
Has my life been in vain?

And, then the one question he would send to Jesus hoping for a response: Are you the one or should we wait for another?

From where John was sitting, he suddenly had more questions than answers.

Have you been in that place? Have you had times when you’ve had trouble seeing anything clearly?

It may not be prison walls that keep you confined, but other things sure do.

Maybe it’s the past that limits your vision. Whether it was the good old days or the worst memory imaginable, the past has become the filter through which we examine everything.

Maybe it’s present circumstances that confine you. Sometimes, things are just bad – relationships have become toxic, your health had deteriorated, your bank account has dwindled or your depression is moving in. All you can see is what’s right in front of you & it’s a bunch of crap.

Maybe it’s your poor imagination that obstructs your view. Most of us were taught to be realistic, to look at the numbers, to decide based on facts. Most of us were told to make a plan & to make that plan happen. When our hearts and spirits were anticipating one future, it’s a struggle to imagine anything other than that outcome, that person, that dream.

There are lots of things that can make it difficult for us to see & feel connected the kingdom of God. So, what do we do when find ourselves in that place? What do we do when we feel disconnected from any sense of what God is doing in or around us? Or whether God is even who we thought God was?

John sends his friends out to “see” for him.

What a courageous request for someone who seemed to be pretty sure of himself. What a humble ask for a man who likely taught his friends all they knew about Jesus. What a beautiful picture of community.

He even receives a response from Jesus. His question is responded to in typical Jesus-like fashion. Not with a simple yes or no, but with an answer that avoids the kind of certainty that John was probably hoping for.

Jesus tells John’s friends, “Go and tell John what you hear and [what you] 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 offense at me.”

John could not see the signs of the kingdom of God for himself, so he asked his friends to see for him. Because John wasn’t as smug & pride-filled as we can be, he received a powerful vision. He received a powerful word from Jesus. To the man who had baptized him, who had put his life on the line and who had called others to do the same, Jesus says:

“It’s here. It’s happening now.”

Now, I’m going to guess that even as John stood in the wilderness preaching the kingdom & calling for repentance, he did not know exactly what it would look like when it came. He was on a journey just like we all are and although he had taken a bold step out into the crazy upside down kingdom of God, he could not see the whole picture.

That’s comforting to me, because I am always second guessing. Always.

This week started on an exciting note. On Monday night, I sat in our living room with two friends from The Well planning a trip to Uganda – to serve & learn with our partners there. Wow. Six years ago this community did not even exist and now we are headed overseas together to minister among refugees together. Now, that is crazy.

Then on Tuesday night, several of us had a conference call with the organizers of an annual festival that has been very transformative in the lives of many people who’ve felt disconnected from God & from the church. We’re dreaming of doing something crazy and bringing people together for a local, smaller version of the festival right here in Springfield. We started envisioning what could happen on the call and then I made a comment about some of the challenges we might face.

Suddenly, it was like I was standing with the Dean of Admissions all over again as Jeff, one of the organizers said, “Now listen. Don’t get stuck in reality.”

Ah, yes – there’s always more to see than what’s right in front of us.

None of us see perfectly. None of us see all there is to see.

Even Mary, the unwed pregnant teenager who vowed to carry the son of God, reminds us of that. She rejoiced because she knew God’s kingdom meant good news for the poor, but I seriously doubt she imagined just how exactly it would all play out – that her son would suffer and die and come back to life.

The longer I follow Jesus, the more I have come to relate to God as one who is always just beyond our seeing – but that doesn’t mean we stop trying.

None of us sees perfectly, but the good news is that we don’t have to be limited by our past, our present or our failed imaginations or anything else that obstructs our view of God’s always unfolding kingdom.

We do not get to hear how John responded to this news of God’s inbreaking kingdom. We only get to hear Jesus scold the crowds for only looking for the kingdom in all the wrong, yet predictable places – among the wealthy and the powerful. Apparently, they were not as progressive & as open as they thought they were to God’s new thing. I suppose Matthew is leaving the response up to us.

Will we admit we have trouble seeing?
Will we dare to lay down our pride and ask others what they see & are learning & experiencing?
And, will we risk imagining a new possibility & stepping out with God’s help in a new direction?

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