The response

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday in Advent, lectionary cycle A, and again John the Baptist features prominently in the gospel text. Yesterday we considered the question John sends along with his disciples: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Today we will take a look at Jesus’ response.

“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. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Mt  11:4-6)

The evidence to which Jesus points is not immediately conclusive, as it does not chime in with the popular (and probably John’s) idea of the Messiah’s work. But his words are an unmistakable allusion to passages in Isaiah which describe God’s saving work (Isa. 35:5–6; cf. 29:18), and the mission of his anointed servant (Isa. 61:1). Six specifics are enumerated: the healing of blindness (cf. Isa 9:27–28; 12:22; 20:30; 21:14), lameness (cf. Isa 15:30–31; 21:14), leprosy (cf. 8:20), and deafness (cf. 9:32–33; 12:22; 15:30–31); the raising of the dead (cf. Isa 9:18; 10:8); and evangelism to the poor (cf. Isa 4:14–17, 23; 5:3).

If these did not form part of the general expectation, and of John’s, they should have. In Jesus’ own understanding of his mission, Isaiah 61:1–2 looms large (Luke 4:18ff.; and cf. above on Mt 5:3–4). The relief of suffering, literally fulfilled in his healing miracles, reaches its climax in good news to the poor, the godly minority described in the beatitudes of chapter 5 (the ‘ănāwim). If this is too gentle a mission for John’s Messianic hopes, he has missed the biblical pattern on which Jesus’ mission is founded.

Jesus seems to understand the difference in messianic expectations and the true nature of the kingdom and so hopes that none take offense (v.6). This is the same verb (skandalízō) as in 5:29–30, ‘be tripped up by.’ Many were ‘put off’ by Jesus, when his style of ministry failed to tally with their expectations, and even offended against accepted conventions. ‘Good news to the poor’ was an offense to the establishment, while a mission of the relief of suffering and the restoration of sinners would be at best irrelevant to those who fought for national liberation. It took spiritual discernment not to be ‘put off’ by Jesus, and such perception was enviable. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me – while it applies directly to John’s state of uncertainty, this beatitude is also a key to the theme of this section of the Gospel, which will introduce many who found Jesus hard to take.

Image credit: The Sacrament of Ordination (Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter), c. 1636-40, by Nicholas Poussin, Public Domain

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