Friday, March 14, 2014

     

The Way of Doubt                     

 

Matthew 11:1-5      
 

  

In Matthew's telling, John the Baptist is confident that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. He has come with a vengeance, with an axe in one hand and a winnowing fork in the other, ready to toss fruitless trees and worthless chaff into an unquenchable fire. It is as Malachi proclaimed, "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?" John's convictions about Jesus seem to be confirmed when the heavens open and a divine voice declares, "This is my beloved son; with whom I am well-pleased."

  

But now John isn't so sure. Now, he's in prison and Herod is about to have his head. Roman soldiers still swagger through Galilee and Judea. And what has this Messiah, mighty in word and deed, done? He speaks of turning cheeks and praying for our enemies. He performs a few miracles in the boonies, far from the seats of power. Time is wasting, and nothing's happening! So John asks, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

  

Jesus' ways do confound us. In his thinking, the exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted; the first will be last and the last will be first; rulers are to serve, and only servants are to rule. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

  

Nor apparently is it a sin to doubt or to question. Jesus calls John "the greatest among those born of women," yet doubts and uncertainties overtake John. I've always like Frederick Buechner's observation in the book Wishful Thinking, "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it alive and moving."
          
And so far Jesus has focused mostly on individual acts of compassion, rather than on spectacular feats of power. So where we think large and become discouraged, Jesus thinks small. We do consider ways to defeat systemic evil, but lives can also be changed by offering a cup of cold water, an encouraging word, a meal for a hungry person, or a visit to a prisoner. They are such simple acts, but they advance the Kingdom. Thanks be to God! 
        

Rev. Dr. Rick Snyder

SFTS Trustee SFTS M.Div. and M.A. 1974, D.Min. 1980