From Hearing to Seeing: Matt. 11

Interestingly, the act of hearing is initially stressed in Matthew 11:2ff:

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah* was doing, he sent word by his* disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

John sends out his disciples for a report, it’s all word of mouth. But then, when Jesus appears in the text, what does he do? He invites his people to move from hearing to seeing. To move from word of mouth to personal experience.

4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see…

This is why Jesus constantly says things like in Matt. 11:1 (the verse before) “he went on from there to teach and proclaim…” and a few verses later Jesus says this classic line as he defends his ministry “Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Jesus invites John’s disciples to come off the emphasis of hearing and see and experience for yourself!

Jesus in effect says, “What is it that you see? Trust your experience here.” If you believe this is from God, the believe it. Stop looking for ways to disprove and disbelieve, instead, if you look for it, there are plenty of reasons to believe.

It’s like a friend of mine, who has a saying that goes like this: “Their actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear their words.” Jesus was being one of these people. And was inviting John and his disciples to stop listening for the words and start looking for the actions.

Yes, Jesus had a message, a very radical and subversive message, and that was part of the problem. It subverted not only the people in power but also all the standard theological-fare of the day. And not only did it not exactly line up, but the people he taught this message to weren’t your typical class of seminary students. He wasn’t teaching this to the “top students” in class, but to the poor, the nobodies, the meek, the hungry, the mourners, the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

So the message is going to sound off for those who are looking for something different. Sometimes we just have to see with our eyes.
And Jesus invites John to move from hearing to seeing and begin to look beyond what he sees and perceive something new.

This is the move of Christmas and the move of transformation. Christ invites us to begin looking beyond what we see, the artifice, the business, the decorations, and look deeper, be ready to perceive and experience something new.

Leo Tolstoy once said:

There is one thing, and only one thing, that enables us to be free in life; everything else is beyond our power: to recognize and profess truth.

Can we recognize the truth when we see it right in front of us? Do we know what grace looks like or do our expectations get in the way?

So in John’s question we see that John has some different expectations.

What he was looking for was not what he was seeing.

And what about us? What do we expect? What is it that we are looking for?

I think the main thing I glean from this passage, in light of our advent them is that
In order to see, and see beyond, we need to know what it is we are looking for.

We need to know what it is we are looking for and how that informs our expectations and our response both to God and to others.

I heard a story about a teenager boy who went up to his pastor one Sunday morning and said “I’m tired of Church, I give up. It’s full of hypocrites.” And the pastor said, it’s true that there are people, if you look for them, who do not live up to your expectations of a Christian, but I just don’t know what to do about this family over here who just adopted three little girls from South America because they needed a home after their parents were killed, or this woman over here who has been volunteering at the local shelter every night for the past two months because she can’t imagine what it’s like to be homeless in the middle of winter, or this businessman over there who heard that this family over there’s house was about to be foreclosed just in time for Christmas and so he paid their mortgage for three months, or the daughter over there who has forgiven her parents for some really rotten things they’ve done. All of them are doing this because they’re trying to live like Jesus in the world. I know when you look you see hypocrites but when I look I see these people too.

The point is: You find what you are looking for.

What will we find this Christmas? Are we going to find a messiah laying out in the wild, whose come to bring about a revolution of love? Or are we going to see just another baby born to a poor family?

You find what you are looking for.

The other morning I had a conversation with L that went like this. L: “Daddy, the moon is out already.” Me, “What do you think it’s doing up so early?” L: “Eating breakfast.”

You find what you are looking for and do you recognize it when you see it?

What is it you are looking for this advent season?

Are you looking for reasons to be stressed? Are you looking to be worried about this or that issue, this or that potential threat (there have been plenty of things in the news to make our skin crawl), this or that disappointment, or pending conflict? Are you expecting to find rude people and hypocryptes?

What are you looking for and have you become unfree to those expectations?

Or are you looking for something a little different?
Something that can only make sense as grace?
Something that can only be seen if you stand still just a moment longer.
The shadow of which can be seen only from a slant?

If this Christmas you are looking to be let down, reasons to be hurt, angry, fearful, separated, heartbroken you will find them. And like John you may be at the risk of missing the grace that is happening right before your very eyes. It’s not to say those issues are real, but are there other ways to approach them? Are there more graceful ways, ways that adjust our expectations about what we are looking for?

It’s not too late for us to change our expectations. Our expectations of one another. Our expectations of family. Our expectations of God.

Let’s not miss all the evidence that points to a messiah who was born in the wild, and whose teachings and practices still challenge us to see God and others in a totally new light.

Are we open to that? Do we have eyes that can see beyond? What is it we are looking for?

Jesus, that crying baby born in a barn, who some claimed, to their own peril, that he was and is the savior of the world, is the one who has brought and is bringing peace to this earth, mercy for those who need mercy, comfort for those who mourn, courage for those who live in fear, gifts for the poor, and healing to the sick.

He says, “God 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 the fact that this is different from what you expected…”

So maybe the book you first picked out might not be exactly what you expected but it might surprise you and if you are looking to be surprised (by grace this advent season) you will find it.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.