When John [the Baptist] came, he fasted and drank no wine, and everyone said, “He has a demon in him!”
When the Son of Man came, he ate and drank and everyone said, “Look at this man! He is a glutton and wine-drinker, a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts!”
God’s wisdom, however, is shown to be true by its results.
[A crowd has gathered to hear what Jesus has to say about John the Baptist, who has been arrested by King Herod.]
Another infamous, scandalous scripture. The “fat Jesus” scripture. There has been speculation that because Jesus refers to himself as a glutton, he might be, well, maybe a little chunky. It raises all kinds of questions. Maybe Jesus was not the handsome Adonis with long, flowing hair generally depicted in Christian art. Maybe he had a big nose and curly, unruly Jewish hair. Maybe he was short. Maybe he had a regular, ordinary body. I’ve seen people respond to this notion with downright anger. They can’t imagine having a hero who was not conventionally beautiful. What if he wasn’t physically perfect? Would it be a big disappointment? Would it matter to you? There’s nothing in the Bible that says he was physically handsome like Saul or David. This picture of Jesus was created by experts for a PBS special. If he was a regular-looking guy, a “Son of Man,” he probably looked something like this. From now on I try to imagine him looking something like this. Jewish, without a halo.
OK, now that I’ve dealt with that, it’s time to move on to the real substance of the scripture. Jesus is telling us what we all eventually figure out – you can’t please everyone. I certainly found that out in the 1990s when our church in Chicago experienced a cultural shift. Suddenly our aging, white congregation was infused with an influx of younger African Americans, as well as many immigrants from all over the world.
Eating and fellowship were never a problem, but worship and music were a never-ending source of contention. The blacks wanted lively, expressive, boisterous worship and Gospel music. The whites wanted staid, somber, serious worship with Euro-centric music. Whatever John and I came up with didn’t seem to work. The blacks said the service was too boring. The whites said it was too showy. The blacks said the music was too restrained. The whites said it was too loud. The blacks said the service was too short. The whites said it was too long. And on and on.
Eventually it became clear what direction God wanted us to take, so we lengthened the service and changed over to contemporary and Gospel music. We got rid of the old broken down pipe organ and replaced it with a contemporary electronic organ. We had prayer ministry, testimonies, and altar calls. We had two Gospel choirs that sang every Sunday. It was not a traditional white Methodist worship experience.
When our District Superintendent Tallulah Fisher Williams visited our church in 1998 the issue came to a head. After church she came and sat beside me as we enjoyed a shared meal following the service. She said, “You know, Susan, a group of people came over to me after the service and told me that they didn’t like the changes you and John have made here. Some of them threatened to leave the church. I want you to know what I told them. I said, ‘The train is pulling out of the station and you’d better get on.’”
Jesus says,”God’s wisdom, however, is shown to be true by its results.” He says that history will be the judge. Tallulah was right. The train had pulled out and there was no stopping it. Our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church was a life-changing experience for all of us who stayed. A church in revival is an awesome thing to experience. The presence of God was so sweet.
Unfortunately the train was also pulling out for Tallulah. Within a year she had passed away at the age of 45 from a heart attack. She was an awesome person who died way too soon. She accomplished many “firsts” in the Northern Illinois Conference; she was the first African-American woman to be a district superintendent and the first black female pastor appointed to serve a predominantly white suburban church. Many felt that she was well on her way to being elected bishop.
The people Jesus addressed in this scripture couldn’t be satisfied. They had a lot of complaints about both Jesus and John. Jesus, like Tallulah, didn’t care what they thought. He told them that whatever was happening was the result of God’s wisdom. He told them “it is what it is.” He essentially said, “The train is pulling out of the station and you better get on.”
And this is the last of this series of scriptures related to the ministry of John the Baptist. Moving on.
What does this scripture say to you?