Talk about "not fair." St. John the Baptist, a righteous and innocent man, is in prison because of his faithfulness, while Jesus eats with tax collectors and other sinners. Not only that, but St. John will remain in prison, until he is finally beheaded, while Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead.
But do not be offended. This is the wisdom of God at work, giving birth to the children of God in Christ; and this is the justice of God at work, bringing sinners into His Kingdom in peace.
There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to eat, and a time to fast; a time to repent, and a time to rejoice. For it is by death and resurrection that you enter the Kingdom of God.
So what have you come out to see? And how shall you receive my Baptism? How shall you react and respond to my preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name?
Acknowledge God’s justice,
and do not reject but affirm His purpose for you.
Truly, I am not the Christ; I must decrease, that He may increase. I preach and point beyond myself to Christ Jesus, the Lord. But in my preaching and my pointing, Christ the Lord is near.
I call you to repentance — to turn away from sin, to follow Jesus — in order to prepare you for His coming, and to present you to Him in peace, according to His good will and righteousness.
Therefore, do not be offended by this poor reed, so easily tossed about and shaken by the wind.
The one who preaches in the wilderness is the messenger of the coming Lord, the expected One. And the one imprisoned for His Name’s sake goes ahead of Him to prepare His way before Him.
You see, then, that Christ Jesus also shall be arrested and imprisoned and put to death. For wherever St. John the Baptist goes, Jesus follows after.
He cures many people of diseases, afflictions and evil spirits; He opens blind eyes and deaf ears; He cleanses lepers and raises the dead — and all of this He does, by taking all of this infirmity upon Himself; by removing the iniquity of sinners, and bearing it in His own mortal flesh.
He acknowledges God’s justice against the sins of the whole world — and He affirms God’s purpose for Himself, for the forgiveness, life and salvation of sinners — by going to His death.
What, then, is your affliction and infirmity?
Christ has borne it for you, and He now bears it with you.
What is the wilderness in which you live?
Even there, Christ Jesus the Lord is near. He is at hand, in your midst, to reign as your King. He is a victorious warrior — not set against you, but a champion for you against all of your enemies.
But what is your prison? Where and how are you locked up? What are the shackles and chains that bind you? What iron bars have trapped you behind closed doors?
Perhaps it is lust, or greed, or envy; hurt feelings or unrequited love. Or maybe it is loneliness, disappointment, personal failure, or your own pride, which imprisons you. Or, is it rather sin and shame, or sickness, or sadness and sorrow? Or, do you find yourself locked up in a dungeon by your vices and bad habits, by addictions you can’t shake, or by impatience and a short temper?
There are no lack of prisons, but the cells are still overcrowded.
It may be that, like St. John the Baptist, it is precisely your faithfulness within your own proper vocation that is your prison house and cross to bear; and that may prompt you to say, "not fair!" Your faithfulness in submitting to a husband who is not thoughtful, kind and loving; your faithfulness in caring for and serving a needy wife who nags and complains and never seems to be happy. Your faithfulness in taking care of children who demand everything from you; your faithfulness in taking care of aging, ailing parents, who no longer remember your name or face.
Whatever it is that confines you, imprisoned as you are by it, what can you do?
Here is what God, the Lord, says to you:
Do not be afraid, and do not be anxious about anything.
But, no; seriously. The Lord is at hand to help you. Call upon His Name. Pray to Him. Ask for a Word from Him; even a Word that tells you again what you may already know. Ask Him to send His preachers to you, to preach; for He comes to you by preaching. Ask Him for the Gospel; and, as you hear that sweet Word, know that He keeps His promises forever.
Listen to what He says; take it to heart, believe it to be true, and confess it to be so. Acknowledge His justice, and affirm His purpose for you.
When He sings a dirge, weep. When He plays the flute for you, dance. Weep for your sin, but dance for joy in His forgiveness. Do not rely on the bread and wine of mortal princes, who perish with their food, but now feast at the Table of the Son of Man who gives real food to the hungry.
Here is His wisdom and His justice, which He accomplishes for you and gives to you in peace.
Your sense of justice may cause you to retreat and run away from Him in sorrow and shame over your sin and failure. And your sense of justice may cause you to hold yourself aloof and far away from your neighbor, because of your neighbor’s sin. But God’s justice is perfected in mercy. His justice is what moves Him to come, to draw near to you in love, to draw you to Himself in peace.
He has taken away His judgments against you — by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.
He has cleared away all of your enemies — by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.
He is with you now in quietness and gentleness. But also in that peaceful calm, He exults and rejoices over you with shouts of joy and gladness. So here is an amazing thing: this Sunday calls you to rejoice in God your Savior, but here His Word declares to you, that He rejoices over you!
He rejoices over you in peace, in spite of your sin, because He has made atonement for your sin and does not hold it against you. Therefore, do not be afraid of your sin; it cannot harm you. The Lord rejoices over you. That is true, no matter what you suffer.
He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners, of gluttonous men and drunkards, and of the demon-possessed who neither weep nor dance. He has made Himself the friend of all who are poor and afflicted and oppressed, whatever their personal demons and prisons may be, of wealth or want.
Dear one, He is your friend: in joy and sadness, in misery or merriness; for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. He pledges you His faithfulness against even death.
And He rejoices in your faithfulness, also, even if you find yourself imprisoned by it and for it. To serve faithfully where He has called you to be, whether it be in a palace or a prison, and to suffer patiently whatever He may give you to suffer for His Name’s sake, that is a worthwhile place and purpose. It is not meaningless or pointless, but a testimony to His faithfulness. It is where you are given to rejoice and be glad in Him, as He rejoices over you in gracious love.
It does not matter if your neighbor fairs differently, nor if the Lord shows favor to those who are less faithful. Do not be offended by Jesus, and do not take offense at the company He keeps.
As Jesus draws near to you, so do you find yourself surrounded by tax collectors and other sinners, by crazy men, and lepers, the hurting and despised, the wounded and forgotten, and by Pharisees and lawyers, too. He does not despise the children of men, but He calls them to be the children of God by His grace.
Do not measure the crowds according to their human birth and social stature. Do not inquire how much or how little, how big or how small. Do not count those beans, neither in yourself, nor in your neighbor. This mortal life on earth is temporary; it is fleeting and always fluctuating.
One day you or your neighbor are a prince or a princess, the next you are a pauper, or a prisoner; or else you pass away in your royal dignity, and then you are put into the ground in your fine apparel and soft clothing, and you return to the same dust as friends and foes alike.
But everyone who is born again of water, Word and Spirit — everyone who is crucified, dead and buried with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism — is raised again with the same Lord, Jesus Christ, and born anew in the Kingdom of His God and Father.
That is the greatness that you share with Jesus, and with all who eat and drink with Him in faith.
With a gentle spirit, therefore, be at peace. Be at peace in your own heart and mind before God, and, in so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ, in particular, no matter what the prison that either you or they may be in.
For the wisdom of God is vindicated by all His children. The One who raised Jesus from the dead has justified you, a sinner, by your Baptism into Him, into His Cross and Resurrection. As He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so are you vindicated and righteous.
What that means is, whether He sets your free from your afflictions and infirmities while you are yet on your pilgrimage, or whether He allows you to remain in your personal prison until death, He will surely release you at last from all of the burdens and the bondage of your mortal flesh.
Whether in frailty and weakness, or in faithfulness and strength, the Lord who has drawn near to you in the Cross of Christ, will draw you to Himself forever in His Resurrection from the dead. For He has already reconciled you to Himself; and that Peace of God, far surpassing all human wisdom and justice, guards and keeps your heart and mind, your body, soul and spirit, blameless in Christ Jesus, unto the day of His appearing.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.