Matthew 11:2-6 (RSV) Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
John is in prison, his disciples are at a quandary on what to do: do they continue his ministry? Do they just go back to their former lives, like the disciples of so many other prophets who met their end? John understands their dilemma and sends them to his cousin, Jesus (remember their relationship?) to ask him that simple question, “Are you he who is to come?”
Some think that John is unsure, that he has somehow lost his faith in Jesus’ identity. I’m not among them. Jewish families are close, family is everything, they would have known about each other, they were less than a year apart in age. Their mothers would have visited each other, got together during important events, and played with each other when they were together. Elizabeth knew from before both births who Jesus was, and I’m sure he would have mentioned it to John many times. John knew he was the Forerunner, and his assignment was to announce Jesus’ birth.
Jesus’s reply was right out of the Bible, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf her, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”
Isaiah 29:18 (RSV) 18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.
Isaiah 35:5-6 (RSV) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.
These all speak to the miracles that Jesus has performed, and will continue throughout his ministry. But, what about the Gospel being preached to the poor? Why is that listed among the miracles? Is that really such a miraculous event? Well, as it happens, it is a miracle, no matter how minor. In the times you were required to tithe, many poor people couldn’t afford even that.
Mark 12:41-44 (RSV) 41 And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”
In addition, many synagogues required a person pay for a seat, a bench so you would not have to sit on the hard stone or marble floor. If you could not afford a seat you could pay for a spot for your mat and sit on that. If you could not afford either then you had to stand or sit outside the synagogue proper, where you might not be able to hear what was being preached.
Matthew 23:5-6 (RSV) 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues
Jesus chose to preach outdoors, in areas that would resemble a natural amphitheater. Anyone could sit in a place like this and easily hear what Jesus was saying/preaching. We never hear of a cost involved, nor of anyone being turned away from hearing what he said. To many of the time this was a miracle, to hear the Word of God being read and explained (in non-theological language). We take it for granted these days, Bibles readily available, churches not charging to listen to the Gospels and their teaching. Sure, a collection plate is passed, but if you chose not to contribute you are not told to leave. I have done this on occasion, finishing up a weekend of backpacking, stopping in a local church during services, finding that I had no money left. Sometimes people looked at me oddly, but I always chalked that up to my attire (after a few days of backpacking you don’t always look/smell your best).
Yes, to hear the Word of God preached at no charge is a miracle, one that we can all experience. If you haven’t done so recently, stop by a local church and revel in it. It doesn’t matter the denomination – Protestant, Baptist, Catholic, Orthodox, AME. I have never been turned away or made to feel uncomfortable in any of God’s houses.