I’ve long had the notion of developing a sermon series on “Great Questions of the Bible.” If it ever happens, the one I’ll start with is the question John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or should we look for another?”
This is the same John who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. There’s no evidence that John had early doubts when Jesus began his public ministry, but now that John was in prison for having criticized King Herod’s illegitimate marriage, he begins to wonder.
We’re not told the reasons for John’s question, but it’s not difficult to speculate. John was in prison for doing what he believed was God’s work: “putting the axe to the roots of dead trees.” Yet, ruthless King Herod was still in power. Foreign soldiers still occupied the land. Rome still imposed its imperial will on the people. The kind of world John imagined bore little resemblance to the world he lived in. To make matters worse, Jesus was doing nothing about it.
Perhaps John regretted signing on to a cause that was turning out to be nothing close to that for which he had hoped. All kinds of plaguing questions and second guesses hijack the mind when you realize the ladder you’ve been climbing is leaning against the wrong wall. Why is the world such a damn mess if a Messiah like Jesus was supposed to make it better and sweep away evil doers?
As intriguing as John’s question is, I find Jesus’ eventual answer more so. To the delegation sent by John, Jesus says, “Just look around. See what’s happening. Notice the changed lives. The blind see. The deaf hear. Those once stigmatized by their social status are no longer. The poor have a place at the table. Those shunned as outsiders are now, because of me, insiders. I know it’s crazy and I know it will upset some people, but I came to agitate the status quo, not affirm it.”
I wonder how most churches would go about answering an inquirer’s related question: “Is this a community that takes Jesus seriously or should I look for another?” Here’s a partial list of likely answers: We sing the old hymns just like our ancestors did. We keep an American flag in the sanctuary to remind us that we’re patriotic. We believe that the capitalistic system is the one Jesus blesses. We always celebrate Holy Communion with postage-stamp-squares of bread and tiny cups – just like Jesus did. We’re proud of our stained glass windows, better than any museum’s don’t you think? We give lots of money to support food pantries and homeless shelters, but we don’t believe we should work to change the injustices that cause those problems, that would be too political. We know that doctrinal purity is the mark of true believers. We believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. Of course we take Jesus seriously, haven’t you seen our parking lot, and what about our carpet? Our liturgy is timeless. Don’t you love our drop down screens? Come to think of it, if you’re not heterosexual then, yes, perhaps you should look for another.
Many are asking the same question John the Baptist asked: “Are you the one we’ve been looking for? Can we find you here?” Far too often, the answers force people to keep looking.