Expectations of the Messiah
Friday, December 22 2006 -- Week of 3 Advent -- (Ember Day)
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 938)
Psalms 40, 54 (morning) // 51 (evening)
2 Peter 2:17-22
Yesterday we read of the ministry of John the Baptist. In the tradition of the great prophets, he spoke from the wilderness calling people to repentance. He said he was preparing them for the coming of "one who is more powerful than I." John described his expectations of this messianic figure: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." John is articulating the traditional hope for a Messiah who will lead Israel to military victory over its enemies and will inaugurate a new reign of justice to reward the good and punish the evil.
It is sometime later. John is in prison. Jesus has begun his public ministry. But what Jesus is doing does not completely match John's expectations. There is no apparent winnowing; the chaff is not being punished. John wonders -- is this really the one? He sends word to find out.
The answer that Jesus gives John references other messianic expectations from Isaiah: "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."
Jesus will not fulfill some of the expectations of the Messiah. He will not be a military warrior. He will not use power to punish. He will absorb violence rather than administer it. Blessed is anyone who is not scandalized by that, he says (11:6). "Until now," Jesus says, "the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force." But this is not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus is a nonviolent path.
True power always triumphs over mere force. But too often in its history the church has abandoned that way. Even today we read of messianic expectations that are full of violence and bloody judgment -- the "Left Behind" series and various dispensationalist theories. The polemic of 2 Peter betrays similar expectations.
Won't the Jesus who returns be the same Jesus? Hasn't he shown us the way? It is not the way of violence and force. He is the way of love and compassion, open and willing to suffer violence rather than to commit it. Blessed is anyone who is not scandalized by this way of humble peace.
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