Heavy heart? Do what Jesus did
No one wants to get the call that their loved one has been arrested. This news is in a category far, far from bad news.
And here we are. Jesus’ cousin John gets arrested. This fact opens the Gospel reading for this past Sunday, January 22nd.
No other information is given about John’s arrest (or Jesus’ reaction to it) in Matthew 4, text that moves quickly into the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Instead of the subtitle, John is off to jail, we learn in Matthew 4 that Jesus is about to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: a people who have lived in darkness now see a great light (Isaiah 9:1-2). At the start of his first public ministry, Jesus repeats what John said which is to repent of your sins and to God for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Jesus then begins to assemble his disciples.
The thrust of Matthew 4 is not on John’s arrest. Matthew clearly wants us to move on from this detail. I understand this. But for even a greater or deeper understanding of who Jesus is (and who those who follow Jesus are to be), I invite all of us to keep the fact of this arrest close because it shapes not only Jesus’ ministry, but it also shapes ours, too.
Think of the drop of ink in the glass of water. In short time, it dispels. Perhaps you hardly notice the water’s discoloration after an hour or so.
It’s still there though.
So it is with John, Jesus’ cousin. The arrest doesn’t just go away. John isn’t jailed for a few hours, found innocent, and unceremoniously set free. No, Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, imprisons John. We learn of this in Matthew 14.
How long John is imprisoned, what his conditions are like, or how he experienced his time in jail are never mentioned. Instead, we follow Jesus’ preaching in the chapters between 4 and 14.
The Gospel of Matthew is designed topically, not chronologically. Perhaps John is jailed for a relatively short time. However, it’s more likely John is incarcerated for a longer period of time because Jesus teaches throughout the region while John is behind bars. Miracle healings are recorded. Jesus also sends his twelve disciples out into the world on a twofold mission: to cast out evil spirits and heal every kind of disease and illness. The majority of the content in these chapters centers on Jesus’ lessons of how to live what his followers will call a Christian life.
Jesus is successful. Crowds gain in size.
On this busy and understandably consuming tour, I imagine a quiet part of Jesus remains torn up about where and how John is, even though nothing of this is said. Like Paul and Silas who sing and celebrate while in prison (Acts 16), John may be confident and cool. In fact, he may still be preaching to anyone who hears him, including his prison guards.
But Jesus is the Son of God. Just like his Father, he is filled with love and compassion. When we look at Jesus in all four gospels, we learn how personal, intimate and caring Jesus is. We also see he has divine insight, a way of looking into the backstory of those he welcomes. For example, he knew Zacchaeus’s character prior to meeting him. He also knew the hurts and the heaviness in the heart of the woman at the well without asking her about her past. He also felt a profound connection to his friend Lazarus whom he brought back to life after being dead for four days.
If he could bring back his friend from death, Jesus certainly must have felt pangs and pain in his own soul when thoughts of John came to him. In being God on earth wrapped in human flesh, he had to of known what would become of his cousin. Herod Antipas had him beheaded.
Jesus weeps when he sees Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-42), weeps in seeing those in grief at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:35), and weeps in the garden over his own fateful and faithful future (Matthew 26:31-35, Mark 14:32-42 and Luke 22:39-46). Hebrews 5:7a says that while Jesus was here on earth, he offers prayers and pleadings with a loud cry and tears.
Even in Jesus’ tears, struggles, and heart heavy moments, he ministers. He goes on. The complexity of Jesus being both fully divine and fully human will remain a mystery to us in this lifetime, but I imagine Jesus publicly preached with passion and a short time later sobbed when alone with his Father.
We can all do the same. We can share Jesus’ message about repentance because the Kingdom of God is near. Jesus means that the time to get it right with God is now, as in right now. A second way to see this is that the Kingdom of God is near to us. By way of the Holy Spirit, heaven and heaven-like moments are close because our God is close.
Jesus wants us to understand we should have an urgency to know not only where the Kingdom of God is, but also what the Kingdom of God is. I hear Jesus’ thrust of ministry, that which he desires most, is for us to know, claim, and follow him so that when we have heavy heart moments, we can turn to God. In turning to God, we can know this life here is not an end. Instead, it’s a beginning to an eternal life that is the complete opposite of cold, distant or uncomfortable.
Jesus preaches what he preaches, sees what he sees, feels what he feels, and breaks where he breaks because he loves. And this is the greatest understatement! Jesus loves his cousin John. Jesus loves his disciples whom he begins to assemble in Matthew 4. Jesus loves us.
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and his dear friend Lazarus because he loves both the city and someone who makes him smile, think, laugh and enjoy life. Jesus weeps in the garden because he needs to let his fear out and the comfort that only comes from our Father in.
Brokenness is out there. Zacchaeus. The woman at the well. Brokenness is sometimes inside us, too. We minister, love, reach, touch, hold, light, comfort and console because of our hearts which at times are heavy.
With that heavy heart in your chest, do what Jesus did. Turn to God and maybe weep with God.
And then minister, love, reach, touch, hold, light, comfort and console.
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