Lexegete™ | Year A | St. Matthew
Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2010
Psalm 146:5-10 (8) or Luke 1:46b-55 (47)
Prayer of the Day
Stir up the wills of all who look to you, Lord God, and strengthen our faith in your coming,
that, transformed by grace, we may walk in your way; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Alleluia. I am sending my messen- | ger before you,
who will prepare your | way before you. Alleluia. (Matt. 11:10)
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.
1b. TEXT: Matthew 11:2-11
Messengers from John the Baptist
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’
Jesus Praises John the Baptist
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
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.
Additional Suggestions ( ELW & LBW) :
Gathering: Awake! Awake! And greet the new morn – 242 [ alt. 239 or 264]
Kyrie: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – 257, st. 2
Praise: Angels We Have Heard on High | ELW 289, stanza 2
Wreathlighting: Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah - 240
Hymn of the Day: Comfor, Comfort Now My People – 256 [alt. 264 or 710]
Offertory: In the Bleak Midwinter – 294 (vs. 3)
Communion: All earth is hopeful – 266 [alt. 243, 501, or 726]
Sending: The Lord Now Sends us Forth – 538 [alt. 248 or 543]
Exegete: The Rev. Dr. Maria Erling teaches History of Christianity in North America, and Global Mission at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. A graduate of Augustana College, Rock Island, IL, she received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School (1981) and her Doctor of Theology degree in American Religious History from Harvard Divinity School (1996). Before coming to Gettysburg in 1999 she was a pastor in the New England Synod of the ELCA from 1983-1999. During that time she served as a member of the New England Lutheran and Roman Catholic Dialogue from 1987-1999.
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