The end is in sight – light at the end of the tunnel. I am just beginning to trust that I am on the right path leading me into the fullness of the light and that there are no more unforeseen detours ahead. That being said, today’s gospel stopped me in my tracks. It is familiar enough of a story – John baptizing in water for redemption, his prophetic ministry fueled by his belief that he was living in the end times – that the light he saw before others was the light at the end of the tunnel – the fulfillment of the Scripture, as Matthew writes. What stopped me in my tracks was the name calling and anger in John’s words. My eyes lifted from the text.
Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
I’ve learned that when my eyes lift I am to get in touch with the question before me. And it was this: I can’t remember why, at this point – before Jesus had come on the radar screen to the Pharisees and Sadducees – I cannot remember why, exactly, John was so angry with these two factions of Judaism that didn’t see eye to eye on much of anything. After all these years of seminary, after all I have preached, taught, and written, in this moment, I cannot remember ever pausing here in this text to ask what was behind John’s anger.
Not a terribly insightful pause – in fact rather embarrassing to admit – but a humbling one. How could it be after all this time that I have forgotten the historical setting for John’s ministry, as related in this story? How could I possibly be coming to the end of this season and still have these elementary questions? Is this an unforeseen detour? Am I being reminded that I am headed to the light at the end of the tunnel prematurely?
I felt not only humbled, but unworthy – again, to have allowed myself to think I have learned enough, remembered enough, to move forward in God’s church as a leader. It has been such a struggle to get to this point. Perhaps, its been a struggle because it hasn’t been God’s plan for me or for God’s church.
Yep. That’s how far down I spun with that little pause. And as I was writing a reminder to myself to review my exegetical and history notes on the passage, I was paused again. This time with the words from today’s first reading from the Psalter, Psalm 26, that when I had first read this morning, had made me think not of me, but of others already in the light, doing work they were called to do as anointed leaders in God’s church. I had thought about the integrity of leadership. And the psalm reminds such leaders that what God sees and knows is intention – God knows our hearts.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus heard retold in Sunday’s gospel. The light had seemed to them to have been put out. And yet, there they were literally walking and talking and still trusting, unwaveringly, the Lord. Though daunted, wounded, and feeling hope-less; wondering if they had gotten it all wrong. And Jesus shows up, walks alongside – assuring and making himself known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is what the Spirit whispered in these verses from Psalm 26 that I recalled as I was writing a sticky note reminder.
1 Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. 2 Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. 3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.*
The Holy Spirit touched down on me and the feeling of failure and unworthiness ushered in by the truth of how little I really have learned and mastered was healed. The Lord just sort of loved me up, “vindicating me” with the reminder that I have trusted the Lord without wavering.
I heard the Spirit saying, “You have trusted the Lord. Trust the light you see out there and within. Walk towards it, embrace it. Living in the light is where all God’s people are to be. Shine. Share. Be not afraid. Take the next step. Onward.”
Lectionary Readings: AM Psalm 26, 28; PM Psalm 36, 39
Exod. 19:1-16; Col. 1:1-14; Matt. 3:7-12