Third Sunday of Advent (15 December 2013)

Contents

Lectionary

  • Isaiah 35:1-10 and Psalm 146:5-10 (or Luke 1:47-55)
  • James 5:7-10
  • Matthew 11:2-11

 

John the Baptist in the Sayings Gospel Q

This section in Matthews seems to combine two of the six texts from Q that deal with John the Baptist:

  • Luke 3:7-9 = Matt 3:7-10 A summary of John’s message
  • Luke 3:16-17 = Matt 3:11-12 John speaks of the Coming One
  • Luke 7:18-20 = Matt 11:2-6 Jesus identified as the Coming One
  • Luke 7:24-28 = Matt 11:7-11 Jesus praises John
  • Luke 7:31-35 = Matt 11:16-19 This generation condemned
  • Luke 16:16 = Matt 11:12-13 John and salvation history

In Q John appears primarily as a prophetic preacher (Elijah returned at the end of time as foretold by the prophets) with almost no interest in John’s baptism ativities. There is no description of John baptizing Jesus, nothing said that locates him in the southern Jordan area and no direct description of his life as a desert hermit. At the same time, the Q tradition knows that John led an ascetic life (“eating no bread and drinking no wine”) and also that his ministry took place in the wilderness (“what did you go out to the wilderness to see”).

 

The Messianic Signs

The verbal agreement between Luke and Matthew is very close, although Luke elaborates the narrative framework a little more than Matthew does:

Luke: The disciples of John reported all these things to him.
Matt: When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing,

Luke: So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask,
Matt: he sent word by his disciples and said to him,

Luke: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Matt: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Luke: When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask,
Matt: —

Luke: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?'”
Matt: —

Luke: Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind.
Matt: —

Luke: And he answered them,
Matt: Jesus answered them,

Luke: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
Matt: “Go and tell John what you hear and see:

Luke: the blind receive their sight,
Matt: the blind receive their sight,

Luke: the lame walk,
Matt: the lame walk,

Luke: the lepers are cleansed,
Matt: the lepers are cleansed,

Luke: the deaf hear,
Matt: the deaf hear,

Luke: the dead are raised,
Matt: the dead are raised,

Luke: the poor have good news brought to them.
Matt: and the poor have good news brought to them.

Luke: And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Matt: And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Of particular interest is a fragmentary text from Qumran (4Q521 Messianic Apocalypse) which provides a significant parallel to this description of the messianic blessings that attest to Jesus as the Coming One. For ease of reading it will be cited here as reconstructed by Florentino Martinez and Eibert Tigchelaar in The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Brill, 1998):

… for the heavens and the earth will listen to the anointed one, and all that is in them will not turn away from the precepts of the holy ones. Strengthen yourselves, you who are seeking the Lord, in his service! Will you not in this encounter the Lord, all those who hope in their heart? For the Lord will consider the pious, and call the righteous by name, and his spirit will hover upon the poor, and he will renew the faithful with his strength. For he will honour the pious upon the throne of an eternal kingdom, freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twisted. And forever shall I cling to those who hope, and in his mercy … and the fruits of … not be delayed. And the Lord will perform marvellous acts such as have not existed, just as he said, for he will heal the badly wounded and make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the poor and he will lead the … and enrich the hungry… and all … [4Q521 fragment 2, column II]

John P. Meier (A Marginal Jew, III,496f) comments on the significance of this passage:

While the direct parallels between this text and Matt 11:5 par. lie in the four saving acts of healing the wounded, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, and the proclaiming good news to the poor, the overall context and “feel” of the two passages are surprisingly similar. These acts that heal and comfort are the fulfillment of prophecy, especially as found in the Book of Isaiah; they occur in the eschatological and/or messianic period of salvation for Israel. In each text there is an astonishing order of climax. The various miraculous acts rise in a crescendo to the announcement of the resurrection of the dead. Yet trumping even that spectacular end-time feat is the still greater act of salvation: proclaiming good news to the poor. … At the very least, 4Q521 shows that the reply of Matt 11:5 is completely intelligible in the mouth of Jesus the Jew in 1st-century Palestine and need not be assigned to the creativity of the early church.

Underlying these prophetic visions of a time of blessing is the following passage from Isaiah 61:1-4:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

Blessed is the one who does not take offence

This episode concludes with a beatitude: a typical from of address for Jesus. As with the more familiar beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Luke 6, this sayings assumes a problematic reality (poverty, hunger, grief or, in this case, disbelief) and then reverses that ambiguity so that the harsh reality becomes a point of blessing.

While John (and all those Jews who shared his views in the first half of the 1C) might well take offence at a Messiah who neither raises an army against Rome nor calls down fire from heaven, those with eyes to see and ears to hear can discern in the transforming practice of the Kingdom communities gathered around the table of Jesus the fulfillment of the ancient hopes. Then as now the test of authentic religion is not whether our personal expectations are reinforced but whether the poor have good news preached to them.

 

 

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

 

Music Suggestions

  • Come thou long expected Jesus – TiS 272
  • Funny kind of night – TiS 329
  • God has a table – TiS 544
  • The Servant King – TiS 256

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. Currently serving as the locum priest at Byron Bay Anglican Parish.
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