Why doesn’t He ever answer questions directly or with a straight “yes” or “no”? The “He,” of course, was Jesus. What prompted the questions had been discussions about Jesus. For whatever reason this week, though I suspect it was the season, people were struggling with the hopeful message of the Incarnation. I take that as an interesting sign. Given the efforts to take Christ out of the season, people seem to be pondering His role, His identity, and His ministry that much more. And, given our readings, I secretly enjoyed the questions that much more, as they hopefully helped me to feed each of you this week.
So my question to each of you here this week is whether that question is based in truth and, if it is, why would He choose to avoid the direct answer? Certainly our readings this week give rise to such questions. John the Baptist is imprisoned. All his life he has labored faithfully for God, and now that the Messiah has come upon the scene, he is imprisoned. Why? Because he has spoken truth to the powerful, in this case the king. Imagine for a second: a giant in our faith, the man who announced the coming of the Messiah, the very man who baptized the Messiah has doubts! No small wonder. Prisons in antiquity were often not subject to the Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. No, John has done what he was supposed to do, and he does not get the expected reward. No wonder he doubts.
And so he sends his disciples to ask Jesus a question, “Are you the one?” Now at all times, given the struggle of his cousin, we should expect Jesus to say “yes.” Yet look at His answer. “Tell John what you see and hear.” Well, what do they see and hear? The blind are given the ability to see; the deaf are given the ability to hear; the mute can speak; the dead are raised! Jesus answers their question with one of His own, in essence: “Who do you say that I am?” Given the evidence before you, given everything you have heard, who do you say that I am?
Those of us who like direct answers may not be satisfied; yet is that not what He has given us? One of the consequences of this life, on of the gifts God has given us, is free will. All of us, and everyone whom we meet, has been given the freedom to decide whether to accept Him or to reject Him. No one is forced. And so, Jesus allows all human beings to decide for themselves who He is. Either He is the Lord, or He is not. There is no squishy middle ground upon which to stand. His question, His ministry, His love demands an answer. But it is an answer freely given by the very ones He came to save.
Jesus reminds the disciples of John of what they have seen and heard. Given those things, they must decide who He is. The same is true for us. We have seen and heard of God’s saving power in the world around us and in our lives. Do we commit to follow Him, or do we continue to go it alone? Because we have to decide and because it is our free choice, how better can He reach us than to point out what we have seen and heard and let us choose whether to become His disciples?
Better still, God uses our experiences, our tales, our witness to reach into the lives of others. Often, I am asked by people in the church what makes great evangelists? What makes someone better able to reach the lost for God. The right answer is, of course, God. But another answer is our own testimony. Canned packages often fail; formulaic propositions or questions and answers often fail; but our heartfelt honest and unpolished relation of the work He has done in our lives and in the lives of those around us will often give others pause. Those sincere tales of His grace in our lives and the lives of those with whom we celebrate His glory and power will make people wonder. And each will be free to accept or reject Him, to learn more about Him or to ignore Him altogether, and to be raised to new life in Him or to accept death on our own terms! And it that acceptance or rejection which allows us, during the peaks and valleys of life, during the good and bad times we will all experience, to be patient until His coming, to face evil with hope, to face darkness with light, and so help grow His kingdom day by day. So, given how He seems so often to work, Who do you say that He is? Why? Your answer may be the key which enables another to ask Jesus to release them from their prison and their shackles and to be set free! Could you give a better gift this season?