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The Rev. Joseph Winston March 13, 2011
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 How would you answer if someone asked you to describe how Jesus looked? Do you think that He stood head and shoulders above the crowd, was He of average height, or could He look short Zacchaeus straight in the eyes? Were people naturally attracted to Him and ﬂocked to be with Him or was there something in His personality that sent people away in droves? What kind of public speaker was Jesus? Did He have a silver tongue and could woo the audience with His Words? Or did He stutter and stammer every time He opened His mouth? As we look from the oldest part of the New Testament to the most recent sections, we ﬁnd a common theme. No author gives us any speciﬁc details on Christ’s physical appearance. Paul who freely admits his knowledge about Jesus came through a revelation does not give us any precise information about what he
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
saw on that fateful day when Jesus confronted Him (Galatians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 15:8). The other letters found in the New Testament follow the same trend. Not a one tells us about Christ’s height, weight, the color of His eyes, or even the shade of His hair. The authors of the Gospels are also silent about the way Jesus looked. We never learn if He is tall or short, fat or thin, magnetic or repulsive, outgoing or introverted, quiet or loud. This lack of information about Christ’s physical features forces us to look at other ways of ﬁnding Jesus. Turning back to the Scriptures, we soon see that one of the most promising ways of picking Jesus out from the crowd is to examine His actions. As we retell the accounts of His life and death here on earth, several common themes start to emerge. Jesus heals the sick, He frees the imprisoned, and He speaks the Word of God. Since we are in the season of Lent, we know that other things happen to Jesus. He will be put on trial, suffer, die, and then on the third day be raised from the dead. We have grown so comfortable with using these attributes as a way of identifying Jesus as the Son of God that we now think nothing of it. In doing so, we have forgotten that Christ’s contemporaries are very reluctant to use these same attributes as ways of identifying the Messiah. That is why thy do not use this approach as a way of locating the Savior of the world. The author of Matthew uses a method that draws deeply on Jesus completing what was ﬁrst begun in the Old Testament.2 Many times, Jesus fulﬁlls the words
Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991), p. 17.
of the prophet. We especially hear this during Advent and Christmass. By being born of a virgin, Jesus fulﬁlls the prophecy (Matthew 1:22). The ﬂight by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus into Egypt with their return when Herod dies fulﬁlls another prophecy (Matthew 2:15). The cries that arise after the slaughter of the infants by Herod fulﬁlls a third prophecy (Matthew 2:17). At other times, the author of Matthew shows us Jesus as the One who does what we cannot. Today’s Gospel lesson uses this form of presenting what happened in the past and how Jesus behaves differently. In the wilderness, Jesus faces three different tests.3 The ﬁrst resolves around the decision to trust God. Does God provide for His children or does He not? The second one addresses forcing God’s hand. Do you wait for the L ORD or not? The third test is one of allegiance. Do you worship God or not? If you already know that the people of God spent forty years wandering in the wilderness, then you have a good idea on the reason behind the ﬁrst test the devil gives. The desert is a difﬁcult place to ﬁnd food. This is especially true if you only know the riches of Egypt and nothing about foraging on your own. The Israelites cannot ﬁnd enough to eat and they quickly start complaining. In doing so, they forget the power of God. The One who brought them out from Egypt can certainly provide the food they need. The L ORD sends the people quail and manna (Exodus 16). Jesus faces the same test. Does He trust God to provide food? By telling the
The Greek in Matthew 4:3 has κα προσελθ ν α τ πειράζων. The selection of πειράζων (tester) over διαβόλος (devil) seems to say that the role played by the opposition is one of testing and not confusion. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 66.
devil “No,” Jesus does what we cannot. He relies on the L ORD’s gracious hand (Deuteronomy 8:3). When you constantly travel from one place to another like the people of Israel did in the wilderness, all you can bring with you are the bare necessities for life. Your tents and clothes protect you from the elements. Food and water give you strength to face another day. Loose your shelter, clothing, or even food and death will come in a few weeks. Going without water is far more serious. The people know this fact. So does God. Apparently, no one remembers God feeding the people and when the water runs out, the people start abusing Moses. Not only are they testing God’s patience with them but also they are threatening the L ORD to do something right now to stop the treatment of Moses. God tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff and there is water for all (Exodus 17). The devil places this second test before Jesus. Does Jesus force God’s hand to save Him from certain death? No. In His answer to the devil, Jesus lives in a way we do not. Jesus believes God knows what is best for Him (Deuteronomy 6:16). The scene painted in Exodus 31 provides the background for Christ’s third test. Moses is on the mountain with God. Every one including Moses’ own brother Aaron believes that they will never see Moses again. Aaron then comes up with this brilliant plan. Make a golden calf and tell the people that the calf is the one who saved them. That is exactly what Aaron did and believe it or not, the people fell for it hook, line, and sinker (Exodus 31). The choice before Jesus is just the same. Does He worship satan or not? The resounding, “No” from His lips still hurts our ears today because we all ﬁnd there 4
are times when we forget God. Jesus never places anything or anyone before God (Deuteronomy 6:13). The ﬁnal test given to Jesus is one of knowing God. For if you can tell the difference between God and satan, between the One who saves and the one who does not then the correct choice can be made. This comparison is at the heart of every test in life. The problem that you face is telling the difference between the two. It is not easy. Consider what is at stake. Many different competing forces want your undivided attention. Their names depend on your hopes and dreams, your weaknesses and strengths, your needs and desires. Each one of the powers promises you gifts. In return, they want something from you. Then there is One that will never let you down and will take nothing from you. Making the right decision between the two has always been difﬁcult, if not impossible. John the Baptizer, the cousin of Jesus, sent this word from prison, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another (Matthew 11:3)?” Jesus responds with the following message, 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 offence at me (Matthew 11:4b-6). Jesus deﬁnes here what is expected of a savior. The bind are those who cannot see. Before Jesus, they could not ﬁnd the way of life. Now they can see which 5
way to go. The lame ﬁnd it hard or even impossible to walk from one place to another. Jesus heals them so they can make it on their own power. Illness prevents the lepers from being with the rest of society. Jesus brings them home. The deaf cannot hear anything at all. Jesus lets them experience the beauty of creation. The dead are the ones that the rest of the world cannot reach. Jesus brings them back to us. The poor are people that are missing something important in their lives. Jesus gives them what they need. We all in some way or another need the healing that Jesus brings. We pray with the whole Church, “Come Lord Jesus.” As you go over the list of what Jesus does for the people, ask yourself, “What is missing?” “What do we consider to be important attributes of a Messiah that are not here?” Jesus provides us some of the charges brought against Him (Matthew 11:19b). He eats way too much. He enjoys more than His fair share of wine. In fact, someone saw Him drunk. He associates, no more than that, He is a friend of the enemy of Israel. In fact, one of His followers is one of them. He is found far too often in the wrong place. After all, He keeps company with other women. From these accusations, you can start to see what the people expected in a Messiah. He must be better than us in every way. This requires Him to spend more time studying God’s word and less with friends and family. It also means that He must clearly keep the distinctions that all Jews uphold, no matter if they are real or imagined. Today, we have our own ideas of what a Messiah must do. He needs to give us the best life possible. That includes a health, a beautiful family, a meaningful job with four weeks vacation, a nice car, and a stunning house. Anything 6
else just will not do. We, just like the people of old, want a Savior that is more than we are. Jesus does not come to make you into a better person. Instead, Jesus lets you be a human with hopes and dreams, friends and family, pain and suffering, death and eternal life. You can now see why the authors of the New Testament do not focus on the physical appearance of Jesus. It simply does not matter if He was tall or short, if people were attracted to Him or not, or the way He spoke to the crowd. What matters the most of all are His actions. They are the best insight we have on the way the God behaves. But even this knowledge about Jesus is not enough for the people who wrote the letters and the Gospels found in the Bible. For they knew others would claim to be the true Messiah, the One sent from God. To prevent this from happening, they tell us how Jesus perfectly ﬁts in with God’s plans for you and I. By God’s grace, we are the inheritors of this legacy. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”4
Harrington, S.J., Daniel J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991).
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