I have been thinking some about ‘legacy’ these days. The sort that is left to us and the sort we leave behind as well.
Maybe this is because of the ubiquitous presence of Christmas Classics… from A Christmas Carol with all of its countless remakes and the at least once annual viewing of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ —- both of which consider the ‘legacies’ of two very different people.
Or perhaps this is because I officiate a lot of funerals. And with each one I do my best to discern the meaning and the particular impact of the life we are remembering.
No doubt this is because I have attended or participated in the memorial services of two men in these last weeks —- both in their early fifties, years younger than me. One fulfilled his vocation as a nurse, a healer. In particular, he was remembered as mentoring younger nurses into the particular culture of the operating room. The other was a mathematician, a computer scientist who developed software that was used by no fewer than three individuals in their work that was later rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. Legacies, indeed.
Or maybe it is that not so long ago I sat with a couple dozen colleagues at the funeral of a beloved mentor and friend, hoping, all of us, wondering, if we would each be remembered for making such a positive difference in the lives of one another.
Or yes, perhaps this is because I expect I am now in my last decade of active ministry —- so much closer to the end than the beginning now. And as we all do, I wonder if it has all mattered.
Oh yes, I have been thinking lot about legacies lately. It makes sense, then, that this is why I am thinking about this week’s Gospel reading in the way I am.
- For John finds himself in prison now and I expect at some level he knows himself to be closer to the end than the beginning of his life.
- John has given his life to the ‘truth’ as he understood it and as we encounter him now it seems as though he is wondering if it was the ‘truth’ after all. (Indeed, he finds himself in prison now because of ‘speaking truth to power.’ He is soon to pay a terrible price for just that.)
- Oh, perhaps it was so that what seemed crystal clear to him in the wilderness is less so now. Or maybe he is just testing what he always believed when he sends his disciples on their inquiring errand to Jesus: ‘Are you the one who is to come or are we to look for another?’ If he wondered, or if his disciples wondered, you could not blame him or them at all.
Conscious or not, perhaps John is considering his own legacy.
- Did it matter at all?
- Was it worth it?
- Was what he thought was ‘true,’ true after all?
And yet, of course, we hear today that the ‘legacy’ John left did not actually lie within John himself. John, like all of us, was simply the one who pointed the way.
The way to another way of life, yes, but more importantly, the way to Jesus who was and is:
- The source of vision and sight;
- The means to un-cripple both body and soul;
- The path to cleansing us from all that would make us less than clean, bringing us back into community once more;
- The who opens our ears;
- And who brings life where there was only death.
Jesus, the source of all good news then and now.
And isn’t this always so?
Isn’t it always the case that any ‘legacy’ worth leaving is always so much larger than the one who leaves it? Doesn’t any legacy worth sharing look far beyond the one whose name is associated with it? If we are to leave anything behind, don’t we all hope it would be something that enhances, deepens, restores the lives of others?
And yes, at the end of this section of Matthew, Jesus reminds his first listeners and all of us that the legacy John left is also ours to share. And more.
So it is that you and I join John today in pointing to the one who has come and who has yet to arrive in all of his fullness. And as we do so day after day, year after year?
- Don’t you suppose we also become those who enhance the vision, the sight, the insight of others?
- Aren’t we a means of healing for those who have been crippled in so many different ways?
- In the healing work of forgiveness, don’t we also pave the way for others to re-enter community?
- Don’t we help others to hear?
- And aren’t we then a part of bringing hope to otherwise hopeless places: Life in the place of death?
Indeed, as you and I continue to look for signs of God’s active presence in the world, we have the chance to become a part of it, too!
No, for those who come after Jesus and who point the way to his coming again, the legacies we leave are never ours alone. In fact, they aren’t really ours at all. Rather, they are all caught up in the gifts of God known and experienced all around us. And like John? All we have to do is point the way!
- When you consider ‘legacy’ what comes to mind for you?
- If you had to summarize John’s ‘legacy’ in a sentence or two, what would you say?
- Does it makes sense to you that our best legacy is simply ‘pointing the way?’
- Can you think of a better ‘legacy’ to leave behind than to be part of life and healing and hope for the world? I am quite certain I cannot.