Sit for a moment and remember a time when you were sitting quietly by yourself. Maybe you were on the back porch. Maybe you were listening to the birds chirping. Maybe you were watching the waves crash against the shore. You can still hear the birds, feel the breeze, and smell the air, can’t you? Memory is a powerful thing in our lives, but sometimes memories can get in the way.
More than twenty-five years ago I had purchased a recording of the Bible on tape. I was so excited to be able to listen to the word of God when I was in the car. For days and weeks, I would listen to the tapes (YES! Back in the olden days cars had cassette tape players) when I was in the car. I thought it would be a good thing. NEVER AGAIN! I will never do it again, not because I didn’t enjoy listening to the Bible, but because twenty-five years later I can still hear the narrator interjecting, “Chapter 3.” I can still hear the fancy production of the birds and crowds and other sound effects the tapes included. Back then I found that the sound effects were more in my memory than the words. I didn’t appreciate it, so I through the tapes away.
When I was reading today’s Gospel reading, I was again reminded of those weeks when I would listen to the Bible every day in the car. I was a frustrating memory to be sure. I have read this passage countless times since those weeks, but STILL I can hear the narrator. The memory gets in the way so much, that I am even writing about it today, twenty-five years later. I’m not writing about the words, but about the narrator. The memory is so powerful, it has affected my ability to read this passage, so lets’ read it.
At that time, the report concerning Jesus spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. The disciples of John told him of all these things. And John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And when the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, 'Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?'" In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." When the messengers of John had gone, he began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.' I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." When they heard this all the people and the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John; but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. – John 7.17-30
What strikes me about this passage is the intensity I feel in the dialogue. “What then did you go out to see?” Over and over Christ is challenging the crowd to ‘come clean’ with their expectations. They didn’t expect Him as He revealed Himself to them. Our expectations have a way of interfering with reality oftentimes. Just as my expectations of listening to Bible on tape got in the way of me appreciating the actual text, the expectations of the crowd when they met Christ interfered with their understanding of Who He was and why He had come.
Many times, in my interactions with people, I find their memory of something affects their expectation. If they remember attending Church then they were young as anything other than good, their expectation is they will never enjoy attending Church. By the time we are discussing why the stop attending Church in the first place, the ‘reason’ more often than not, no longer is relevant. Nonetheless, the power of their memory keeps them from expecting a good experience in Church.
This is why we must protect our future from our present ‘memorable events’ so our expectations are not ruined. Our memories are like hard drives in our brains. Once something enters our memory, it is there just waiting to be recalled. Experience has taught me the recall cannot be controlled very easily. Case in point, today’s recall of listening to the Bible on tape so long ago. In practical terms, that means everything you experience today will enter your memory banks to be recalled later. That might be a good thing, or it might be a bad thing.
As you go about your day today, ask yourself, “What did you go out to see?” What are your expectations for the future? How will your memories help you? Beware of the power of memory. Your future depends on it.