Matthews’ account of John the Baptist struck a chord with me this a.m. given the recent loss of an admired believer, though somewhat distant friend. Our lives seem disposable when one who has been so diligent in the spread of the gospel is taken out by disease or disaster, especially as young as this friend was. We just don’t see it coming, even with the much dreaded lingering torment of cancer.
I have to wonder what was going on in John’s mind as he sat there waiting for his cousin Jesus to bring solution to his guiltless imprisonment by the tyrant Herod. Even Herod knew that this precursor of the Christ had done nothing wrong, other than calling whoredom what it was! I wonder if even John had a clue as to how far his prophetic life style would take him, in preparing the way for the God-man and members of his crew.
I can see John, somewhat relieved as the door to his cell was opened, thinking his cousin must have come through. The horror and disbelief that must have momentarily been his as the guard swung his blade severing his head! What a loss to humanity!
Jesus himself seems caught off guard; remember this God-man was fully man! He “retreats to a solitary place.” Yet still the crowds are there, and unlike so many of us, his compassion overcomes his grief and yes, perhaps even his disbelief, that God would let something like this occur. Meanwhile, His disciples are of little help in the moment other than to scorn the crowd, directing Jesus to send them away so they can eat. These privileged few were apparently more directed by their bellies than their hearts. That would all change soon!
Whether truly hour by hour or simply the way it is recorded, one’s read of Mathew 14 moves swiftly forward, and I think for a reason. The narrative that begins with a threatened Herod, stunned by what he hears of John the Baptist:”risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” That of course is more religious folklore than reality, but between that and John’s accusation of his Brother Phillip’s wife, he had him locked up!
From that point an abrupt execution occurs, leaving his cousin Jesus stunned, yet in a way we cannot conceive, his grief is overcome by compassion and another God-moment occurs in the feeding of the 5000! “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in a boat” where they find themselves in a storm! Unlike anything these former fisherman had evr seen, Jesus appears out on the water. Their first guess: “It’s a ghost.” Of course, that is followed by the famed story of Peter walking on the water!
How does all this relate, perhaps we are witnessing the shift of a spiritual mantle from John the Baptist to Peter,: though unlike John, Peter, when in prison will be greeted not by a guard with a sword, but an angel who unlocks the doors and leads him to a prayer meeting where he is greeted by some of his old “ship mates” from that very storm, now cowering in disbelief, though praying for his release.
We are a strange bunch and God works in even more mysterious ways to continue his work when it is time for a mantle to shift! Peter is now emboldened in a way not seen since John, and even more so, when the One whom John prophesied had in fact risen from the grave! The Early Church is still alive, though our response to the ways of the Lord seems eerily the same, especially when we lose a warrior friend!
Rest in Peace Caroline Leinbach Woo!