This reading from Luke is a fascinating commentary on how things stand in our country today. Here are two men who ultimately have the same goal in mind but when questions come up about the identity of the other they follow the eighth commandment in a similar way to how Luther eventually explained it. They weren’t arguing or anything like that but there was uncertainty in the air. And people don’t like uncertainty in their lives very much. They like uncertainty about their lives even less. Tends to make them tense and cranky, wondering what comes next.
John had questions about who was who in the zoo. John sends two of his disciples, his followers, to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” On the one hand, it’s a reasonable question. John has been a prophetic voice with a lot of followrs, announcing the coming of the Messiah. He knew he wasn’t THE one but he wasn’t certain if Jesus was either. And really, when it comes to following a messiah you don’t want to make a mistake and end up on the 6 o’clock news or some viral video with everyone making fun of you for following some nut case. You really should make certain you are following THE messiah and not someone with delusions of something or other.
On the other hand, it almost seems like a silly question. We’re 7 chapters into the gospel of Luke and as we’ve been reading, Jesus has been healing and dealing all over the place, even raising the widow’s son from the dead just last week. Well, not actually last week but you know what I mean. We talked about it last week. These feats of healing and raising from the dead aren’t cheap parlor tricks you just practice in the garage for a bit and take your show on the road. Especially that raising from the dead piece. That can’t be an easy thing to pull off.
Unless of course you ARE the messiah. The one chosen to come save each of us from our sin and from death. If you ARE the messiah, and Jesus is, then healing and raising from the dead is seriously in your wheelhouse. And evidently you are THE one.
All of which leaves John and Jesus with a couple of options here. John can affirm the evidence and witness before him and refuse to believe that Jesus is the ONE. John can ignore the actual, before his very eyes, acts of healing and resurrection and John can call Jesus out because he’s not the one. Or, he can celebrate this man Jesus, this man that he baptized in the Jordan river, this man who is healing and raising from the dead, as THE messiah. THE chosen and anointed one. THE Christ. That is the path that John takes
And Jesus has a real opportunity here, too. Jesus knows that he is the Christ, of course. He knows he is the son of God and the son of man and is the one chose to bring forgiveness and healing to each of us. He KNOWS this, because he is the actual one. Which puts him in a perfect position to slap down this questioning baptizer. Jesus could say mean things and use his position of power to make himself look good. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t even make the claim to be the Messiah as some edict from on high. He tells the men to check out what they’ve seen and heard and decide for themselves. Jesus let’s his actions answer their question.
The overarching message that comes to us from 2,000 years ago is this. These two men, men in this particular story, could be worried about protecting their own turf. Their own belief system. Their own followers. Their own… their own… their own… BUT… They don’t. They manage to set themselves aside and give glory to one another. They don’t give up on their own stuff but instead they use their power to build up the other and we here today are better for that. And that is a message to each of us today.
In order to think, speak, and believe well of the other person we have to set our own preconceived notions aside sometimes. What it comes down to is we have to give up on the idea that the world orbits around our own little planet of self. Too often we think in terms of “Am I the one?” rather than seeking after Jesus asking, like John asks, “Are You the One?”
There has always been a certain level of self-centeredness in humanity. God knew it from the beginning with Adam putting his desire ahead of God’s command. God knew it from the time of the Hebrew slaves escaping from Egypt and putting their desires ahead of God’s commands. God knew it from the time of Jesus with the religious leaders putting their own desire for righteousness ahead of God’s command. Luther captured it clearly when 500 years ago he described all this mess as “Incurvatus in se” or turning in on oneself.
None of this is new but it seems like it has gotten worse as of late. Or at least more visible. It is hard to see anything online or in print or on the airwaves that isn’t highlighting the power and desire for self. I think the good news about that is it brings our selfishness, our focus on self, out in the open rather than hiding it in some passive aggressive fashion like polite society did in the good old days. And make no mistake, the passive aggressive approach toward those we disagree with is no more attractive than a selfie.
If we bring something out in the open, in other words if we confess our sins, then we can start on the path of healing and redemption. Not on the path of someone else who needs healing and redemption but our own healing and redemption. As we heal and live into our promised redemption we are then freed to love others.
Jesus and John could have used their positions of power to cut the other down. Jesus and John could have used their positions of power to make fun of each other. Jesus and John could have used their positions of power to focus on their own wants and desires. But they don’t. They work on building each other up.
I might be having a little fun here with a selfie stick. There’s a time and a place for using one like taking a picture with a large group.
What I’m highlighting today is the taking a duck face pictures that just scream, Me! Me! Me! highlights an issue that goes against what John was pointing out and what Jesus lived and died for. There is a time and place to focus on ourselves but always within the the idea that In our baptism we die to self and live for Christ and in living for Christ, we are called to reach out and to build up another.
We can be ourselves. Or we can be like John. Or we can be like Jesus. Let us pray that our lives are so transformed by the Holy Spirit that we’ll be like Jesus.