Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. A young man flew through space accompanied by a robot. He felt called to be something special, to be a champion of good in the face of evil that was consuming the universe. And his name happened to be Luke Skywalker. He came to a very damp swamp in search for a master teacher, named Yoda, and when he landed, there was nothing but swamp everywhere. The first being he found who could talk to him was a funny little creature, with big floppy ears and a strange way of talking. This cute little elfish looking creature acted too dumb and looked too inconsequential to be much help, but if you know the story or you know how stories like this go, this unimportant looking little person turned out to be the great Jedi master. Soon it was Luke that was trying to convince him that he was more than he seemed to be, and could be a good student.
But what was Luke expecting to see? Was he expecting someone would be more imposing than Darth Vader, the great adversary? Was he expecting to see someone old and wrinkled and wise like his old mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi? It’s hard to know what Luke was expecting to see, and what he expected to see actually hindered him in finding Yoda.
Seeing is the most important thing in today’s readings. The first reading tells of the time when the “eyes of the blind will be opened.” It was a promise that meant a lot to the people who lived in Galilee at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as they searched for the Messiah, the promised one. They knew their history, that God reaches out to help the downtrodden, and the man they were looking for could already be in their midst.
John the Baptist did his ministry on the banks of the Jordan River, mostly in Judea, but also in the area of Herod Antipas. John was a wild man, following the tradition of the Old Testament prophets who did striking things and dressed in weird ways to make a point. Like the prophet Elijah he also engaged in criticizing the establishment when it did things that didn’t make sense. Herod Antipas had been married the first time to a princess of a kingdom known as the Nabateans, but he divorced her to marry his sister in law. This marriage wasn’t only forbidden in Jewish law, it was a very dumb thing to do politically: it meant that Herod was going to have to go to war with the family of his first wife for no good reason. Herod wasn’t extremely dumb: when John the Baptist started criticizing the King for his bad judgement to the people who were going to have to fight on the front line of the inevitable war, Herod had John locked up. In those days, access to people in prison had to happen every day: jailers didn’t feed prisoners or give them water, so the only way those folks ate or drank was when their friends came by to take care of them. So John hears about his cousin, who has taken up his work, and wants to know what’s going on.
It’s rather interesting how Jesus answers his cousin John. He doesn’t tell him exactly who he is, or anything else about what he’s saying. You could say that Jesus knows words are cheap. So Jesus says to tell them what’s going on: the blind have sight, the dear hear, etc. It’s what’s happening now, and it’s the standard that is set up in the tradition for the day of the Lord. Jesus’ answer says God’s work is happening now, the day of the Lord is now.
Now Jesus talks to his own disciples about John. John was person who had a lot of influence beyond the end of Jesus’ ministry: there are many accounts of John’s disciples at work for decades after the apostles have begun their work, and it might make sense for Jesus to have something negative to say about John and what he represented. After all, Jesus didn’t act like John at all: Jesus went all over the place, talked with people rather than at people, ate and drank things that John carefully avoided. But Jesus reaches out to include that different message into his own. He knows, like most people, that we need different messages for different times, and all that you have to do is look around you to see what to expect and what needs to be said. John needed to wake people up; Jesus was to come among people who were already awake and bring them to a higher level, to kick things up a notch, to raise the bar.
Who are we looking for, and what do we expect to see? Do we come looking for a great hero like Luke Skywalker, someone who’s going intimidate our adversaries as they intimidate us? Are we looking for someone who looks great and charismatic a handsome person, always under control? Are we looking for wonderful ideas, glorious structures, crystalline logic, persuasive arguments? Or are we willing to find someone who’s very down to earth, even someone who makes us a bit uncomfortable? Do we see our savior in our midst, looking very ordinary, speaking to us in a familiar voice, telling us of the reality we’re living in now as well as the reality of the kingdom to come?
We profess our faith together every week, give praise and thanks to God for the gift of Christ, share the Body and Blood. What should other expect to see of a people who do these things? What should we expect of ourselves who take these words into our mouths in public? We don’t have to look great and we don’t have to sound great. We don’t have to have everything perfect, because we have one here who will make up the difference. Are we willing to ask ourselves what actions mean, or what actions are important, or even how our actions proclaim who we claim to be? Do the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead rise from the results of what we do?