On his return from the time of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus hears of John’s arrest (Matthew 4: 12 – 23). It was a critical moment. Jesus may not have been surprised at the action of the authorities as they seem to have acted as expected. Powers and authorities do not easily hear challenge and criticism without at some point trying to justify their position, hold on to their position and render the critic voiceless and fearful of their lives and livelihoods.
Perhaps it may have been expected that Jesus, as family if not friend, would go to his aid by lobbying and advocating on his behalf, while perhaps asking John to tone down the message. He does not go his aid. He does not ask John to tone down the message; far from it. Instead, Jesus moves out into Galilee and his first words of ministry echo exactly John’s, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Being a channel for the Word of the Lord is not for the fainthearted. John’s ‘reward’ may have been imprisonment but the Word cannot be locked up. I can’t help but wonder if John was unhappy at Jesus not coming to support him in jail? Or, might he have been more comforted that Jesus heard, and responded to, the call of the Kingdom and advocated the cause of repentance before the powers and authorities himself?
In the midst of an oppressive and unjust kairos event, Jesus stepped up and spoke up. He lived out his calling and invited others to join him through turning around and beginning the work of transformation that was, and remains, so needed.
John is still in prison today; as the stories told by Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and others testify. The Word may be held in places within bleak and dehumanising corridors. Nevertheless, its echo does not fade. It can yet be heard calling us to a repentant turning away from discrimination and a need for domination, and towards a Kingdom life, under his Lordship rather than our own; or, any other power and authority for that matter.
How will we respond? Is it possible that we could respond immediately like the first of Jesus’ disciples? I wonder…
Amen: Lord, have mercy.