We need a better system.
Resources just need to work better together.
Someone needs to create a new program for that.
If our neighbor would just do what they are told to do …
While each holds some truth, our expectation of fixing very worldly problems frequently falls short of a kingdom vision.
In Matthew 11: 2-11, we read that John the Baptist’s expectations for the coming Messiah leaves him wondering whether this Jesus he baptized is, in fact, “the one” his people have been waiting on. He plays the part, he says the things and people are in awe of the miracles he is involved in. But the warrior, the fixer that the Jewish people had been expecting and John had been preaching of did not jive with the pain, brokenness and suffering still at play.
Now in prison and facing an uncertain and likely bleak fate, John has to know, “Is Jesus the one? Or are they still to wait for another?”
But as we often learn in getting to know Jesus—in getting to know our neighbor—the kingdom is built upon an upside-down version of everything that we expect. No matter the clarity in the prophesied Messiah in Isaiah 61, a Luke 4 reality of the scripture being fulfilled in hearing of good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, sight for the blind and letting the oppressed go free came as no consolation to a people themselves who were desperately waiting for deliverance from their oppressive Roman rule. Likewise, in this exchange between our Baptist John and Jesus, even those closest to his ministry cannot reconcile how the work of God shows clearest in a place of mercy, healing and forgiveness above the conquest, repentance and sacrifice the Messiah had been imagined to bring.
The next time I saw Dennis, he was in the parking lot hand in hand with a beautiful woman. He was more than a year sober, things were going well for him, and I was reassured in the value of my original deed.
It never crossed my mind that almost 10 years later, a far less hopeful Dennis would be back again.
Dennis would not be the first whose life would cycle repeatedly though the Micah community. And every time it happens, we are reminded how very little God’s call to this work has anything to do with fixing and everything to do with deeply and holistically loving neighbors.
John the Baptist, as well, would not be the first to wonder how the immaculate imperfections in a Messiah story could be a perfect culmination of God’s divine design for creation. We wait and hope in an advent season for the coming of that Messiah, who does not arrive by chariots and sword, but a homeless baby in a stable. There are such questions throughout the life of Christ about whether he is the one, that even in death and resurrection some of his closest followers doubt what God has done.
But if we have learned anything in knowing our Jesus is the one, it is that wonder, question and doubt is the very place we must go if God is to have a chance of showing up. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them,” Jesus says to John. And although these small tokens of God’s love for the world are a far cry from the resolution and liberation the people expected in that day, the very impossibility of these miracles are active symbols of God’s promising presence in our world.
“When you have loved me in the ways that you have, I have grown to understand I am useful,” our current Dennis, now housed, employed and on the other side of a complex medical issue, recently said to a church congregation. “In your love of me, you have affirmed Jesus’ answer to John. The homeless are housed, the sick are healed, the lost feel worthwhile and the lonely find their people.”
Therefore, it is a relentless hope, prayer and presence in the lives of neighbors like Dennis that affirms Jesus is Lord and we know it. And it allows the Dennises of our community, who believe themselves so far beyond redemption, forgiveness and love, to know that they too are worthy of a kingdom vision.
Meghann Cotter is executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that offers holistic care to the Fredericksburg’s street homeless.