the penultimate WORD

Series 2007 - September
What did Jesus do...?


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican







Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. Blind people are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People who have leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can now hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news. God will bless everyone who doesnt reject me because of what I do.  Luke 7: 22ff.



The assignment was written on the blackboard. The writing was large and uniform and open. After all, this was Grade 3 and personal style was in the future. As scholars returning from a summer vacation we sat at our desks, faces scrubbed, new school clothes fresh from their first wash and smelling clothes-line clean. New pencils and notebooks were placed in desks and hands were clasped in nervous anticipation of the arrival of our Teacher. Miss Moore introduced herself and wrote her name on the board.

She stood in the morning light entering the classroom and she was beautiful. I think everyone was in love with her and was eager to please her every request – I know I was. She was beautiful and gracious. But most of all, she was smart. And she was smart from the very beginning.

Looking back, I have not changed my mind. If anything, life has only proved her to be correct and wonderfully profound.



Like her first assignment – the one written on the blackboard. In large letters we learned that we were to write a composition and bring it to school the next day. “What I did this summer,” was the subject of the paper that was to occupy my mind throughout that day and find me filling a page with my very best handwriting when I got home that afternoon. My mind soared and my imagination began to explore all sorts of exciting paths that so many of us know from our summer excursions.

But as vivid as my imagination was and as thrilling as my summer might have been, fiction was not the focus of the assignment. My summer had been very ordinary and dull and there was nothing exceptional that I could report – nothing that would have Miss Moore notice me. My family did not go on a special trip anywhere. We hadn’t even left our home. There had been no special family picnics, no sightseeing, no cottage, no discoveries.

I had been to Fredericton on the bus once to visit my Grandmother, and I had gotten motion sickness somewhere on the Broad Road – before it was paved and when it was hot and I was sick. But I could not write about that!

John, when he was arrested and awaiting his punishment in Herod’s jail, sent his disciples to Jesus I learned later. He gave them a question to ask Jesus, whether or not he was the Messiah. John thought Jesus was the Messiah but wasn’t sure, and he sincerely wanted to know. So he sent his disciples with his question. Jesus told them to “go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”



Later in life, much later, I learned that Miss Moore’s assignment was predicated by the example set by another Teacher, the Rabbi from Nazareth whom John baptized in the Jordan. Jesus gave those disciples the opportunity to report what they had seen and heard – nothing imaginative, nothing exceptional. They would report no stones turned into bread. None of them had seen angels buoy Jesus up as he fell from the Temple wall. As spectacular as these things might appear in their imagination, they evaporated in the light of a new day heralded by God’s Messiah.

The silent touch of the lives of the broken and discouraged were hardly noticeable to busy passers-by. Jesus’ healing ministry went unnoticed by most. His vestment was singularly unremarkable and silk damask was unknown in the photo-memories of those who accompanied him.

Their report simply fulfilled the assignment given by Teachers in every generation. And the completion of the report enabled John to rest assured that Isaiah’s witness was fulfilled in Jesus: the poor were having good news proclaimed to them; the broken were being bound up and restored; the ill were becoming whole.

As for my composition, it touched several people that touched my life with grace – my Grandmother whose smell I can still recall from when she lifted me up and gave me a hug and buried my face in her neck; and that man who surrendered his front seat in the bus that had to stop by the side of the road to let me out to be sick. Grace fills our summers. We only need to look back… and remember.

Copyright © 2007 James T. Irvine

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Scripture: Contemporary English Version

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton