There is a big difference between the first day of school for a first grader and the first day of school for an eleventh grader. Which one is more excited for the day? Probably not the eleventh grader. We all know that the first day of school in the first grade is one of the most exciting days in the life of a child; one they have been looking forward to and anticipating with great eagerness. They are joining the ranks of the big kids, in school where they are going to meet new kids and learn to read. They will even get to ride on a school bus. It is all going to be so much fun, and they can hardly wait. The first day of school is exciting for a six year old. But they do lose a bit of that excitement by the time they get into high school.
The same might be true for their teachers. Fresh out of college, the first day of teaching school for a 22 year old is bound to be exciting. She is anxious to finally put into practice what she has been learning, eager to pass on knowledge and wisdom, and ready to make a difference in the lives of her students. Within a few weeks, however, she might find herself dealing with some other things she had not planned on; such as getting bogged down in administrative paperwork, spending all kinds of energy dealing with unpleasant disciplinary issues, and learning that the lives of her students are complex. She find that her students are involved in extra-curricular activities, social events, television, family issues, jobs, and much more, and it will be a challenge for her to have any kind of positive impact on them in the little bit of their lives that she has them in class. This is not to say teachers will not have an impact or that the challenges cannot be overcome. But the excitement and level of expectations on the first day of school in the Fall for a 45 year old teacher is probably going to be different from her expectations when she was 22.
Over the years expectations change for students and teachers. Changing expectations are an issue not only in school, but for everyone in every phase of life. Marriages may succeed or fail on the simple factor of whether or not the couple goes in to the marriage with ‘realistic expectations’ (few do), and the success of the marriage becomes a matter of how well the couple adjusts to the differences between what they expected and what they got. In careers, child-raising, political or community involvement, home owning, vacations, church, and life itself; in everything we are confronted with the difference between expectations and reality. We are constantly forced to get used to things we hadn’t expected.
John the Baptist had to adjust his expectations of Jesus. In Luke chapter seven we read of John’s disappointment. Jesus was not what he expected. John was in prison for criticizing King Herod, and from what he has heard, Jesus did not bring the harsh and fiery judgment John was expecting. So John sent a couple of his friends to ask Jesus a direct question (7:20), “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John’s expectations of Jesus were apparently not met.
What do you do when your expectations are not met? Do you go looking elsewhere? That seems to be what John was hinting at doing when he asked “or should we expect someone else?” Sometimes that is the best thing to do. Some people go to college to prepare for a specific career, get a good job in that area, but soon quit and go into something completely different; and are then content. The change was needed. It would not have been good to remain where they were. Their unmet expectations led them to find a better fit.
On the other hand, there are also those who are never satisfied because their expectations are never met, and they go through life jumping from job to job, from marriage to marriage, and from place to place, never finding anything that meets their unrealistically high expectations. This is not good. In this imperfect life one must learn to live with disappointment. There are even those who would advise you to scale down your expectations completely. “Expect nothing, and you will never be disappointed,” they say.
For John the Baptist, however, it was not a matter of what would make him the happiest. There was to be no more happiness for him at all in this life. He would be sitting in that prison until his execution. So expectations of any sort of happiness were already pretty low for him. For John at this point it was a matter of truth. He had dedicated his life to preparing the way for Jesus, and now he was having his doubts. Jesus was not what doing what John expected him to be doing, and so John asked, “Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?”
How does Jesus respond to this sad and desperate plea from his cousin and friend and faithful forerunner? Jesus certainly did not say he should look elsewhere. John had no more time to look, and as would become clear, Jesus certainly was the one who was to come. Nor did Jesus say, “Scale back your expectations John, get used to life’s disappointments, this is as good as it gets.” What Jesus did say was, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” That is an impressive list. Any one of those items is a powerful testimony to the miraculous presence of God. It wasn’t what John was expecting, but it was far better. The fiery judgment of God that John was expecting had not yet come in Jesus‘ life, but something better was happening. (continued…)
Luke 7:20-22 — When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.
–St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)