Updated: Jan 31
Reading this Gospel this week made me think of the movie, Taxi Driver, where a young Robert DeNiro was looking into his mirror, practicing making his new attachment to his arm work, saying, “You talking to me?” He said it over and over.
“You talking to me?” “You talking to me?” “Who do you think you’re talking to?” “I’m the only one here … you talking to me?”
DeNiro’s character, Travis, was upset about the way the world of New York City had become, so he was planning on being a tough guy, by cleaning up some of the filth.
Jerusalem under Roman domination was similar, to some degree. John the Baptist was similar to Travis, in that regard. He wanted to fight the criminals who were against God.
He must have thought Jesus would fight likewise.
Therefore, it seems that Jesus was somewhat miffed by the disciples of John the Baptist, when they came to tell Jesus their leader was in prison AND he had sent a message to inquire, “Are you the one, or should we wait some more?”
“You talking to me?”
Jesus said, “Tell John what you have witnessed and what has been spread around town by word of mouth. Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, cures the lame, deaf, and dumb, all while bringing good news to the poor.”
“You talking to me?”
Jesus told the disciples of John, “Go back and tell John that anyone who takes no offense at me will be blessed by God.”
One of the translations of that statement has Jesus saying, “Whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” Another, “Who has no doubts about me.” Still another, “He that shall not be scandalized by me,” as well as, “To whom I shall not be the cause of falling into sin.” Two more say, “Who does not stumble and fall because of my claims,” and “He that may not be stumbled in me.”
Thus, Jesus was saying to the disciples of John, “Go tell him he is not in prison because of my actions. So, as long as he is not blaming me for his troubles, then he is blessed by God.”
When the two followers of John left, Jesus begins asking, “What did you go into the wilderness to see?”
He quizzed, “Were you looking to find just one reed shaking in the wind?
A reed shaken by the wind means one that bends to whichever direction the wind is blowing. So, were the people going into the wilderness to see someone who would believe Jesus was the Messiah one day, when he was free to stand in the baptismal pool of the Jordan River, but then doubt that belief when he finds himself in jail, with no one pulling the walls down to free him?
Were you looking to find someone symbolically announcing he was a king by dressing in fine linen and fancy, soft robes (most likely purple)?
Such a king would be someone from the house of David, returning with the Torah in one hand and a sling in the other. “Where is the giant called the Roman Empire?” Would they really go out into the wilderness to find a wild man wearing such Temple garments?
Were they going to see a prophet?
Sure, they thought that, but their minds were filled with images of a returned Elijah, riding a chariot of fire, with the glow of God upon his face. The prophets had already spoken, so another prophet was not what they were looking for. Besides, the people who wandered out from Jerusalem were known more for killing prophets, more than anointing them with oil and pronouncing them kings. If they were to see a prophet, they wanted to see it be the Messiah King, with a band of angels carrying the Ark of the Covenant alongside.
Jesus asked those questions rhetorically. He knew why the people went to see John the Baptist. It was because they were full of sin and wanted someone to make them clean. Someone who could wash away the dirt of sinful living would be nice to see.
Now, they saw a man who was in prison and crying about whether or not Jesus was the one.
Jesus was the one with a message sent by God, so he was the one to see. Jesus would prepare the people for the path to heaven, by telling them what they needed to change first.
Washing with water was not enough. They had to wash their minds clean, so their bodies would sin no more.
As holy as the people thought John the Baptist was, he admitted he was unworthy, when compared to the one he knew would come later. But, the people thought he was the one.
“You thought he was me?”
“Open your eyes and see the truth!”
“Open your ears and hear the truth!”
“Get up off your beggar’s blanket and walk the path of righteousness!”
“Open that mouth that has been quiet about what is wrong with the world and praise God that the world may be saved through Jesus Christ!”
“Here is your God! Be strong and do not fear!”
“I am sending YOU my Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
Is God talking to me?
Yes. He most certainly is.
We are now 10 days from Christmas and our recognition of the birthday of Jesus the Christ.
Last Sunday we saw John the Baptist call out the leaders of the Temple and the keepers of the Law. He called them “vipers.”
We saw how the coming of heaven on earth would bring eternity to the faithful, such that the ox and the bear would eat straw and the leopard would lie down with the kid.
The symbolism was how heaven is not a place where food is necessary. Animals lie down just to be friendly and take in the scenery. Chewing straw is just a laidback thing to do, when one has an eternity on one’s hands … or hooves … or paws.
Today, in the Isaiah reading, we have a picture painted for us about the coming of Christ. It begins by stating why Christ will need to come. It then goes into what he will do when here. It then moves on to tell what those who meet Christ will have to do.
Yes. We have responsibilities too.
John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees because he saw them as failing to carry their end of the Covenant. They were taking advantage of God. The believed they were doing all they needed to do to get to heaven. They were, instead, like deadly snakes, killing the innocent children of God who stuck their hands into their holes in the ground.
The symbolism of Isaiah’s reading today is another one of those duality things. Today, we see the wilderness and the dry land, versus the waters breaking in the wilderness, the streams in the desert, pools covering the burning sand, and spring water coming like a drinking fountain from the ground.
In Ezekiel 37, we heard God ask if dry bones could live again. In Isaiah, we see how flesh is to dry bones as water is to dry land.
The symbolism of water is emotions. The land needs water, just as bones need flesh. We must do more than go through the motions of faith. We must have a deep-rooted emotional attachment.
Just as we cannot live more than a few days without water, we cannot get to heaven without a strong emotional desire to get there.
Israel was dried out after centuries of mismanaging their agreement with God. It was the same ole same ole, looking for a little excitement to spice things up … maybe a little idol worship here and a little sexual liberation there. Who’s gonna notice?
Jesus coming into our lives is all we need. The spring of God flows through us, in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is born as a baby in a manger once a year, to spice up our lives with gifts and bows and pagan lights on trees; but what is most important is Christ being the model for each of us to live up to.
It is not easy living like Jesus, but it is not impossible. Jesus came to show us it is possible, with God’s help. With God’s help we will all support each other in that quest.
God wants us to be happy and to rejoice and sing … not just in this building, but everywhere we go, for the rest of eternity.