“When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he withdrew….From that time on Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Matthew 4:12-17
I have always been intrigued by how people can have vastly different reactions to the same experience. I saw this growing up. My brothers and I lived in the same house and saw the same things, and yet we came away with different understandings of what had happened. I remember one time when I was in my late twenties, getting together with my older brother and sharing memories. At some point in that conversation, I asked “Did you grow up in the same house as I did?” so different were our memories.
This line from Matthew’s gospel reminds me of that phenomenon. Lots of people knew John had been arrested, but I wonder how many others came away from that experience with the same reaction as Jesus—first to withdraw and then to take up John’s message and make it his own, to pick up where John left off.
I imagine that many people who heard of John’s arrest said, “If that message is going to get me arrested, I am not going to repeat it.” But not Jesus. After spending some time apart, he then took up John’s work and even added healing and curing. Jesus’ reaction to John’s arrest was total commitment to carry on building the Kingdom of God. If he had fears about possible consequences, he did not let those fears stop him.
How sad Jesus must have been when John was later beheaded. And what clarity John’s beheading offered: not only can preaching this message get one arrested, but also killed. And yet Jesus continued John’s work of proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God, of speaking truth to power.
I have known a few people who had that much courage and were that free that they could be true to the Gospel message no matter the consequences. They inspire me.
I am looking ahead to the start of Lent on Wednesday and thinking of what would help me to be free enough to live in total commitment to God’s will.
I think that I will get the greatest clarity by naming and facing my fears, since fear is what holds me back. Perhaps I will spend time this Lent writing about my fears—those I am aware of or can figure out by reflecting on my thoughts and actions—and those that become apparent through other means like what people tell me or from my dreams (what I tell myself when I am asleep).
I want to be more like John and Jesus and others who moved beyond fear and lived in total trust. I want to be that free.