So was it worth it? Did I get it right? Did it all matter?
I'm guessing these are the questions going through John the Baptist's mind as he sits in his jail cell and waits to be executed. He's done what he thought God wanted him to do—he's pointed the way to Jesus the Messiah. But now, at the end of his life with death inches away, he's starting to have his doubts.
“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?'” (Matthew 11:2)
Back in chapter 3 of Matthew's gospel John seemed pretty cock-sure Jesus was the one. He even offered to have Jesus baptize him. (Matt. 3:13-15). But as his life is coming to a close he needs a little more assurance.
Don't we all.
Have you ever asked yourself if it's been worth it? I know I do from time to time. I guess you can't help it once you've hit middle age and you know that there's probably more road behind you than in front of you. It's rather like that scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan (Spoiler Alert if you haven't seen it!) where this old guy, an American World War II vet, staggers among the crosses of a European cemetery where his battle buddies lie buried. Surrounded by his aging wife, kids and grandkids, he surveys the graves of those who didn't survive the war and tearfully asks, “Have I been a good man?”
What I love about this pericope is how pastoral Jesus is. He sends John's disciples back with instructions to testify to the condemned man. Go tell your boss what you've seen, Jesus tells them. Haven't you seen God's mighty works? The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead rise, and the poor hear the good news. Tell John that. He'll figure it out.
Then Jesus addresses the crowd and praises John. Why did you guys come out to the Jordan to hear John? He wasn't a reed blowing in the wind. No. This dude had substance. He gave it to you straight and he didn't mince words. And he wasn't some coiffed and rhinestoned TV preacher selling you a feel-good gospel. He spoke real words about sin, repentance, society, and hope for what God can do when you open your heart to Him. He was a real prophet. In fact, he was probably the best prophet in the whole darn prophetic line.
And you know what?
None of that matters. Not really.
You see God doesn't love us for of our human achievements. God's grace is deeper and wider than any of the values by which we puny people evaluate our earthly existence. As great as John may have been, the least in the Kingdom is greater than that. And that means you and me.
I mean, haven't you seen it? I have.
For whatever choices I may have made in my life—right or wrong—God has still shown me mighty acts of mercy. I've still been able to love and be loved. I've seen sunrises and sunsets. I've made children laugh. I've worked hard and enjoyed leisure. And I've seen God at work—healing the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, loving the outcasts.
If we're ever going to take time to sum up our lives, we should do it in the knowledge of God's unrelenting goodness. We should do it with an eye to the beauty in our brokenness. A failed ambition was still an ambition. A failed love was still a love. A failed relationship was still a relationship. A failed life was still a life.
No doubts. No regrets. Just God.
I hope you're enjoying the Season, my friends. Drop me a comment to let me know you've been here!
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Hey! Want to get your Old Religious Guy a nice Christmas present? If you're Lutheran or Roman Catholic please sign my Change.org petition and ask Pope Francis to consider a full communion between our churches. It's the gift which keeps on giving! Just click here.