For Whom Are You Looking: tell what you see and hear

jesus-christ-from-hagia-sophiaMatthew 11:2-11. 2 When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him 3 with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. 6 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Commentary. The Baptist, whose proclamation introduced Matthew’s presentation of the Messiah (3:1–12), is now appropriately called as the first witness to the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. Yet John’s response is equivocal, positive but uncertain. Nonetheless his is a preparatory role for the true time of fulfillment. John remains the one who points forward, even if uncertain.

John’s question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John’s arrest was mentioned in 4:12, yet the full story of his imprisonment will wait until 14:3–12. No doubt he had anxiously followed the career of the one whom he had recognized as his superior (3:14–15) and had probably already taken to be the ‘mightier one’ for whose coming he had prepared (3:11–12). The Christ is Matthew’s description of Jesus, and sums up the impression he has aimed to convey.

John, as his question shows, was not yet ready to be so positive, though he would have liked to be. His hesitation was probably due (as v. 6 suggests) to a discrepancy between his expectations for ‘the coming one’ and what he actually heard about Jesus. The ministry so far recorded does not match up with the expectations of 3:11–12, and the miracles which are its most obvious feature were not a part of the common Messianic expectation. John may also have found it difficult to accept a Jewish ‘Messiah’ who failed to fast as his own followers did (9:14 ff.), and who kept the sort of company which a careful Jew would avoid (9:9 ff.).

The evidence to which Jesus points is not immediately conclusive, as it does not chime in with the popular (and probably John’s) idea of the Messiah’s work. But his words are an unmistakable allusion to passages in Isaiah which describe God’s saving work (Isa. 35:5–6; cf. 29:18), and the mission of his anointed servant (Isa. 61:1). Six specifics are enumerated: the healing of blindness (cf. 9:27–28; 12:22; 20:30; 21:14), lameness (cf. 15:30–31; 21:14), leprosy (cf. 8:20), and deafness (cf. 9:32–33; 12:22; 15:30–31); the raising of the dead (cf. 9:18; 10:8); and evangelism to the poor (cf. 4:14–17, 23; 5:3; Luke 4:18).

If these did not form part of the general expectation, and of John’s, they should have done. In Jesus’ own understanding of his mission, Isaiah 61:1–2 looms large (Luke 4:18ff.; and cf. above on 5:3–4). The relief of suffering, literally fulfilled in his healing miracles reaches its climax in good news to the poor, the godly minority described in the beatitudes of chapter 5 (the ‘ănāwim). If this is too gentle a mission for John’s Messianic hopes, he has missed the biblical pattern on which Jesus’ mission is founded.

Jesus seems to understand the difference in messianic expectations and the true nature of the kingdom and so hopes that none take offence (v.6). This is the same verb (skandalízō) as in 5:29–30, ‘be tripped up by.’ Many were ‘put off’ by Jesus, when his style of ministry failed to tally with their expectations, and even offended against accepted conventions. ‘Good news to the poor’ was an offense to the establishment, while a mission of the relief of suffering and the restoration of sinners would be at best irrelevant to those who fought for national liberation. It took spiritual discernment not to be ‘put off’ by Jesus, and such perception was enviable. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me – while it applies directly to John’s state of uncertainty, this beatitude is also a key to the theme of this section of the Gospel, which will introduce many who found Jesus hard to take.


Notes

Matthew 11:2  in prison: see Matthew 4:12; 14:1-12. The works of the Messiah: the deeds of Matthew 8-9.

Matthew 11:3 the one who is to come: This is not known as a Messianic title in OT usage, however, Is 59:20 uses the same verbal construction to refer to God coming as Redeemer to Zion.

Matthew 11:4 Jesus said…in reply: Jesus does not answer directly rather telling John’s followers to report the things they have witnessed and heard. There are two possible understandings of such a response. (a) Jesus does the deeds of the Messiah (cf. 11:2) and his works answer John in the affirmative. (b) Jesus demands a reinterpretation of the signs by which the “the one who is to come” is to be discerned – i.e., by such deeds and not military conquests.

Matthew 11:5 the blind regain….the poor have the good news proclaimed to them  Jesus’ response is taken from passages of Isaiah (Isaiah 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 61:1) that picture the time of salvation as marked by deeds such as those that Jesus is doing. The beatitude is a warning to the Baptist not to disbelieve because his expectations have not been met.

Matthew 11:6 who takes no offense: The Greek verb is skandalízō which can mean to ‘cause to stumble’ or ‘cause to take offense.” The latter is preferred here because it expresses the theme of the next several chapters in which people do take offense at him (ch. 12).

Sources

  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) pp. 266-68
  • Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000)  p. 249
  • R.T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) pp. 195-98
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 154-62
  • Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp. 878
  • John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990) pp. 119-20
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
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