"blessed is he who takes no offense at me"

Yesterday was Memorial Day. Which always sets off the flag-waving and pumps the patriotism—and stirs up the anti-military activism as well. Among the people I hang around with, I see more of the latter. Just the other day, while working in the strawberry fields, I was hearing about writing letters to our senators about the war.

But the story I read this morning should raise questions for the activist Christians, I think:

John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And when the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, 'Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?'"

In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." (Lk 7.19-23)

It seems like an odd question from John the Baptist, who seemed to know Jesus well enough earlier in his life. But John was in prison at this time (see Mt 11.2-6). And perhaps he had in mind the very prophecies from Isaiah that Jesus refers to in his reply (Is 35.5, 61.1), promises of what it would be like when the messiah came. Isaiah 61.1, after "good news for the poor," says the savior will "proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." In John's situation, it's understandable if he was impatient for this "opening of the prison" to happen soon.

But Jesus is not going to storm the prison. Or protest at its gates. He's not even going to write an indignant letter to Herod denouncing the unjust imprisonment of his cousin. This is hard to swallow. For John, with his expectations of a messiah who would lay an axe to the root, and also for many justice-demanding activists. How could Jesus ignore John's plight? How could any Christian?

Obviously Jesus wasn't ignoring John's suffering. But his response to John was not to fulfill his expectations of justice (or ours). His response was, "The kingdom of God has come. Blessed is he who takes no offense at me."

The liberty that Jesus proclaims (then and now) does not come to the suffering who demand it or the righteously indignant who try to make it happen themselves. His liberty and healing and good news are not for those who try to lead the way themselves—with the force of their will or the strength of their numbers—but for those who are willing to humbly follow Jesus in his way. And take no offense at him.