In one of my classes recently, we were talking about the Nativity story, and how our cultural perceptions shape how we view it. To illustrate her point, the professor brought up artwork of the Madonna and child, and in the first batch, they were both very European. Light skin, round eyes, rather non-descript clothing of ordinary colors and textiles.
Then she typed in “Madonna and child, Africa.” The images came back with a Mary and Jesus who were not only very dark-skinned, but clad in traditional African garb.
Then the professor typed in “Madonna and child, China.” Same thing. Very distinctly Asian features and clothing.
Even as fledgling theologians and seminarians surrounded by many other cultures, it was startling to us to see these versions of Mary and Jesus that we weren’t used to.
We might not have consciously realized that we viewed Mary and Joseph and the baby as light-skinned and European looking, but we did.
This isn’t uncommon, this business of seeing Jesus through our personal lens. Because Jesus never has fit the image of what people expected him to be.
That’s what we’re seeing here, in today’s Gospel reading. John the Baptist finally sends word to Jesus and asks if he’s really the Messiah or if they should all be waiting for someone else entirely.
Let’s let that sink in for a moment.
John the Baptist wasn’t even sure anymore that this person was Jesus.
We heard on the first week of Advent that John and Jesus were some kind of cousins, born not too far apart. John was the prophet sent to prepare the way for Jesus. And now, after Jesus starts his ministry, John is wondering if he’s the Messiah after all?
Because Jesus doesn’t fit what John was expecting.
Jesus didn’t fit what the Jews were expecting.
Jesus didn’t fit what the world was expecting.
The promised Jewish Messiah was to be of David’s bloodline. David was the most celebrated and beloved of the Kings of Israel, and he was a true king.
How could this peasant, who by his own admission had no place to lay his head, be the next king? How could he deliver anyone?
To hear the full sermon, click here: