ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL
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John was scandalized by Jesus. Does that shock you? If so you are not alone. Many would deny it and offer other explanations for his question. Some people say that it was John’s disciples who did not believe, and so John sent them to Jesus to hear the gospel directly from Him, but that is hardly logical. Far more credible is the fact that John, who according to our Lord’s own words was the “greatest man ever born of woman,” was still a man, and therefore he had his questions.
Some say that his doubts were borne of self-pity because he was now in prison. No doubt sitting in a first century prison was difficult, but John was well aware of the risks he incurred when he condemned Herod for taking his brother’s wife. In true prophetic fashion he denounced the king’s adultery. It cost him his freedom and soon would cost him his life, but John was no softie, and even in his travails he still pointed to Jesus who would also be imprisoned on the cross and innocently put to death for us.
Instead, the thing that tripped up John is the fact that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah he was expecting, but this should not surprise us. When the Lord predicted His suffering and death at the hands of the gentiles even Peter, His chief disciple, was appalled and swore that he would never let this happen; but that would have been the worst possible thing, because if Jesus had in some way managed to avoid the cross then it would be every man for himself. Every man would be paying the staggering price of his own sins, but that would never do.
If John was dismayed it was because Jesus was not fixing all the world’s problems. He was not doing what weary men have always hoped for, what we mistakenly look to the world’s “movers and shakers” to do even today, namely to make the world a better place to live. John, like every other devout Jew of his day, awaited the Messiah who would make Jerusalem the joy of all the whole earth, and rain down Malachi’s fire on all her enemies. Jesus did not do any of these things. Instead He displayed His strength by humility and by becoming the Servant of all. Yes, He did many miraculous signs, things that we would all like to see replicated on a much larger scale. He healed the sick and raised the dead, but not all of them. That’s because those miracles were meant to be indicators, signals of what would one day be universally true, but first the problem of sin had to be solved, and that would take the Cross.
It’s not only others who are outraged by the cross, so is our Flesh. It wants nothing to do with self-denial, repentance, suffering or death. If it must be dragged to God’s house by the New Man, it wants church to be a celebration; a happy time when people leisurely come together to eat bagels, drink coffee, and hear a nice message, spoken from the heart, of an ordinary guy, dressed in soft clothing, about how God can make our lives better, but there was no coffee at Golgotha O Flesh! Only vinegar; vinegar and the full wrath of God being paid out to Jesus who languished on the cross wearing our sins, answering our judgment and dying our death.
This is why Jesus would not let such thoughts stand. He said to John’s disciples: go and tell John what you hear and see, that the lepers are cleansed, the lame can walk and that good news is preached to the poor. What kind of an answer was that? It was code to anyone who knew the Scriptures, which John did, that Jesus was the One Isaiah promised and that he should look for no “other;” nor should we, O Advent Worshippers, because St. Peter teaches us that salvation is to be found in no other, and that there is no other Name given under heaven by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
When Jesus said that whoever is the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John He was talking about us! John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, the metaphorical Elijah, and as such had the unique privilege of first introducing the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We are part of the New Covenant, ratified in Jesus’ blood, when He poured out His life in order to make us whole, and that is all that really matters. Without unwavering faith in this One Great Act of Salvation, this One Eternal Sacrifice that Jesus made for all sinners we are nothing. Every other thing that we are or know or hope or possess means nothing, because when our expiration date arrives, and we all have one, those things will vanish in the blink of an eye. It is the soul that has been purified by the blood of Jesus, like the Word of our God, that endures forever.
Yes, we are the ones whom Jesus refers to as Blessed because we have been chosen by Him. That’s the word that Scripture uses, Chosen. The Old Man is scandalized by it! He cringes at the thought because he has been taught to be democratic, classless, but we are surely not. Instead we are the Lord’s Blessed ones, not because of any works of righteousness that we have done -- never make that mistake -- but because the Lord’s Incarnation, Death and Resurrection answer for our sins; and because in Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to believe it, so rather than doubt like John did, or be scandalized at the Blessing with which we have been blessed, let us rejoice on this third Sunday of Advent, on this day when we light the joyous pink candle, on this day when we remember that Advent is not only a season of repentance, and a time to cast away the works of darkness, but also a time of great Joy because Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras