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. (Matthew 11:7-11 NRSV)
In earlier passages, we learn that John (the Baptist) was in prison, wondering if Jesus was truly “the one who is to come.” So Jesus sent his disciples to tell John about their incredible experiences with him, so John would indeed know that Jesus IS the One. Now, in our passage for today, Jesus is praising John before the crowds, enlightening them of the magnitude of John’s role- for him and for them. John the Baptist is more than a prophet, he is the messenger who prepared the way for Jesus.
Jesus asks his questions of the crowd. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? What then did you go out to see?” John certainly wasn’t the type of prophet the people expected. John was a most unusual messenger who prepared the way for their Messiah- the one who would come to save them. He was rough and stern. He wore camel hair and ate locusts. John did not wear soft, royal robes; John was not born in a palace. He was a totally unexpected prophet for the people.
The people would soon discover that Jesus was a totally unexpected savior, as well.
We recall that Jesus went into the wilderness after he was baptized by John, in order to face temptations and ready himself for the life of complete obedience to God. Since then, people are often drawn to the desert as a place of spiritual deepening. In the barrenness of the wilderness, most distractions are removed and all comforts and company are gone. In the emptiness and solitude, people often find deeper meaning, greater awareness, and new life through a more clearly revealed presence of God.
We will soon enter Holy Week. Today, let’s imagine we are heading to the wilderness. We are entering a place of barrenness, with the fervent hope of sensing God’s presence more fully. Jesus’ questions are directed to us, to guide our thoughts and emotions.
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus is asking, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? What then did you go out to see?”
What is your spirit hoping to find in the week ahead? If all distractions were removed, what might God reveal to you? What would you see? Can you release all expectations? Can you prepare to be surprised? Left alone with the Spirit, what do you hope will happen?
What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? What then did you go out to see?