Lexegete™ | Year A | Matthew
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
December 16, 2007
Psalm 146:5-10 (8) or Luke 1:46b-55 (47)
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
December 23, 2007
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7)
1a. CONTEXT: Matthew 11:2-11
John the Baptist poses the crucial question to Jesus in today's
Gospel: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for
another?" Contained in these few words are the hopes and
expectations of his prophetic ministry, and he speaks for the
faithful in every generation who must make a decision. Is faith in
Jesus the answer to life's pressing problems, to the world's search
for hope? Matthew places Jesus in the center of these questions as
he tells the story of the encounter between the messengers of John
the Baptist and the Christ. Luke shares this story with few changes
(cf. Luke 7:18-35), but Matthew places particular emphasis on John's
imprisonment and so sets the stage for a major turning point in his
gospel. He begins to describe the ways in which hostility to Jesus'
message grew so that some who heard the message of the kingdom became
followers willing to give up their lives and others began to plot for
Jesus' death. In chapters 11:2-12 there is growing opposition, and
John the Baptist's imprisonment is the first sign of the price that
Jesus and his followers will have to pay.
John the Baptist's ministry did not dovetail so neatly with
Jesus' ministry as we might be led to believe from a superficial
reading of the gospel material. This particular Advent text does not
place John the Baptist at center stage, confidently announcing the
new kingdom. Instead we hear the questions and we are reminded, as
Minear points out (Matthew, The Teacher's Gospel, p. 76) that there
was a time in the early church when people knew disciples of John who
had not become christians. Jesus did not fulfill every expectation
and perhaps for that reason caused offense.
The significance of the Advent season is that there is one who
is to come, but it isn't Santa Claus any more than it is the wrathful
one who destroys the unrepentant in John the Baptist's preaching.
There are a whole host of other hero figures that we can conjure up
to satisfy the longings of the human heart, but the church proclaims
that it is Jesus who came and who is coming and that the answer to
our questions depends upon our own willingness to be put on the spot.
1a. TEXT: Matthew 11:2-11 (ESV/Greek)
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers  are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man  dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
 11:5 Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases; see Leviticus 13
 11:8 Or Why then did you go out? To see a man . . .
 11:9 Some manuscripts Why then did you go out? To see a prophet?
(GreekBible.com Online Text Copyright Info
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition
© 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition
© 1975, United Bible Societies, London)
2ο δε ιωαννης ακουσας εν τω δεσμωτηριω τα εργα του χριστου πεμψας δια των μαθητων αυτου
3ειπεν αυτω, συ ει ο ερχομενος η ετερον προσδοκωμεν;
4και αποκριθεις ο ιησους ειπεν αυτοις, πορευθεντες απαγγειλατε ιωαννη α ακουετε και βλεπετε:
5τυφλοι αναβλεπουσιν και χωλοι περιπατουσιν, λεπροι καθαριζονται και κωφοι ακουουσιν, και νεκροι εγειρονται και πτωχοι ευαγγελιζονται:
6και μακαριος εστιν ος εαν μη σκανδαλισθη εν εμοι.
7τουτων δε πορευομενων ηρξατο ο ιησους λεγειν τοις οχλοις περι ιωαννου, τι εξηλθατε εις την ερημον θεασασθαι; καλαμον υπο ανεμου σαλευομενον;
8αλλα τι εξηλθατε ιδειν; ανθρωπον εν μαλακοις ημφιεσμενον; ιδου οι τα μαλακα φορουντες εν τοις οικοις των βασιλεων εισιν.
9αλλα τι εξηλθατε ιδειν; προφητην; ναι, λεγω υμιν, και περισσοτερον προφητου.
10ουτος εστιν περι ου γεγραπται, ιδου εγω αποστελλω τον αγγελον μου προ προσωπου σου, ος κατασκευασει την οδον σου εμπροσθεν σου.
11αμην λεγω υμιν, ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων ιωαννου του βαπτιστου: ο δε μικροτερος εν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν.
2. ANALYSIS: Matthew 11:2-11
Mt. 11:3 - su ei ho erchomenos ei heteron prosdokomen - The "one who
is to come" (AILL) was spoken of by the prophet Malachi in chapter
3:1 and is a phrase picked up in the New Testament a number of times
(Mt. 3:11; Jn. 1:15,27, 6:14; Acts 19:4; Hebrews 10:37; Rev. 1:4,8).
The prophet Malachi was addressing the levitical priesthood but his
strong imagery of purification and cleansing with fire may well have
appealed to John the Baptist. It is difficult to tell if the
question we have in Matthew's text comes from an actual encounter
between Jesus and the disciples of John (Schweitzer, The Good News
According to Matthew, p. 255), but Matthew was certainly aware of the
tensions between the message of John and the message of Jesus which
had surfaced in the early church.
Mt. 11:5 - tuphloi anablepousin kai choloi peripatousin, leproi
katharizontai kai kophoi akouousin, kai nekroi egeirontai kai ptochoi
evangelizontai - "the blind receive their sight and the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up,
and the poor have good news preached to them" (AILL) - This list
miracles is Jesus' answer to the disciples of John. The work of
Jesus goes far beyond the expectations of the messiah (healing
miracles) yet does not destroy the unrepentant (John), cleanse the
priesthood (Malachi), or punish the nations (Isaiah). What Jesus
does is find a place in the community for those who have been exiled
for one reason or another. He eliminates the barriers to fellowship
even preaching good news to the poor.
Mt. 11:6 - kai makarios estin hos ean mei skandalisthei en emoi -
"And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me" (AILL). - One of
Malachi's particular charges against the priests was that their
instructions had become a stumbling block (Mal. 2:8). Matthew has
Jesus blessing those who have made the difficult decision to become
Mt. 11:11 - ouk egeigertai en genneitois gynaikon meizon Johannou
tou Baptistou, ho de mikroteros en tei basileia ton ouranon meizon
auto estin - "among those born of women there has risen no one
greater than John the Baptist; yet one who is least in the realm of
heaven is greater than John" (AILL). - The earthly kingdom is here
contrasted with the heavenly kingdom. John the Baptist receives the
highest praise possible here on earth yet God has even greater things
in store which begin in the message of Jesus.
3. STRATEGY: Matthew 11:2-11
This Advent text continues the emphasis on John the Baptist
introduced on Advent II. In this reading, however, there is the
opportunity to examine more closely the implications of John's
preaching and the expectations he aroused. The situation for the
worshipper during the Advent season contain some interesting
parallels. By this time the expectations for Christmas reach almost
a fever pitch and the "hopes" expressed bear almost no relation to
the reality of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. Christmas is a
holiday which should be enjoyed, but the coming of Christ has much,
much more to offer--though not necessarily on our terms. It is truly
possible for the modern christian to take "offense" at the
proclamation of Jesus, even as they prepare so assiduously for the
coming of the "Christ Child."
This text seems to lend itself especially well to the
traditional sermon against the "commercialization" of Christmas or,
more positively, the "true meaning of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany."
I don't think that this message ever gets too old, but I certainly
would warn against spoiling the holiday for the faithful. A way to
get at that message without seeming too heavy-handed would be to
examine the nature of adult expectations (how often we are
disappointed and fall into cynicism, or learn to have "realistic"
hopes). It seems that, in the name of "maturity," we at times can
be especially poor in spirit and unwilling to hope at all. But the
wonder and wisdom of Advent is otherwise. Jesus' coming is a real
event and is marked by real signs--though maybe not what we have
been led to expect.
4. REFERENCES: Matthew 11:2-11
Minear, Paul S. Matthew: The Teacher's Gospel. New York: The
Pilgrim Press, 1982.
Schweitzer, Eduard. The Good News According to Matthew. David
Green, translator. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975.
5. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Advent 3
HARK! A THRILLING VOICE IS SOUNDING! (HB 59, LBW 37) is suggested as
the hymn for the day and would be very appropriate. ONCE HE CAME IN
BLESSING (HB 53, LBW 312) would also be an excellent hymn of the day.
A hymn to set off the Isaiah passage is ISAIAH IN A VISION DID OF OLD
(LBW 528), and it would make a wonderful substitute for the singing
of the psalm of the day.
Exegete: Dr. Maria Erling
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, PA
6. FURTHER READING
Several other resources might be useful in planning services and
especially selecting hymns in coming weeks:
Hatchett, Marion J. A Liturgical Index to the Hymnal 1982. Hymnal
Studies 5. NY: The Church Hymnal Corp., (800 2nd Avenue, NY
10017), 1986. This spiral-bound volume contains 340 pages of
excellent hymn suggestions based on the Daily Office, Holy
Eucharist and numerous other sections of the Book of Common
Prayer. An inexhuastible tool!
Hartman, Olov. The Birth of God. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969.
This simple little book (out of print,as far as we know) is
worth looking up it for its 30 "readings" pertaining to the
Advent/Christmas/Epiphany texts. Hartman, a Swedish dramatist
and theologian, brings a fresh perspective to the inner
meaning of our holidays and holy days, one needed today.
Schuessler, Paul, T.R. Bartsch, and David Rebeck. Scriptural and
Topical Indices to LBW. Lima, Ohio: C.S.S., 1985. This brief
paperback gives helpful suggestions for hymns in the Lutheran
Book of Worship, based on a lectionary index.
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