Expectations are problematic. It seems they are always too high, or too low, and somebody always winds up disappointed. Rarely are they any more than a hope, and often an undefined hope at that.
In today’s reading, the people who have gone out to see John were full of expectation. They had questions about John too, about whether or not he would fulfill their expectations. Some of them must have doubted it. Doubt is the other side of expectation. Some probably hoped more than others.
John was clear, though. “No,” he said. “I am not the one. But, there is another who is greater than I…” and the people must have thought that the other one, the greater one, would surely meet their expectations.
I can hardly imagine what it must have been like to be among the people who heard John. They had been expecting a savior for a long time, and some would-be saviors had risen up to deliver them from the Roman occupation. The sense that they were a people destined for deliverance ran deep in their consciousness. It was just a matter of time, a savior would come and the sea would be parted, walls would come down, and all would be right again. Armies were raised, raids were conducted, and some good efforts had been made; but the high priests still sent their money to Rome, Antipas still ruled from his new cities in the Galilee, and their own leaders were increasingly in collusion with Rome. Hope and expectation ran high, and so did the remembrance of earlier failures, doubt, and questions. This “other one,” though, surely would be their deliverer.
Two thousand years later it is easy for us to say that Jesus is the savior of the world. It did not meet the expectations of those few souls in the desert, though. Their expectation wasn’t spiritual as much as political and economic. In that respect, Jesus would become just another traveling preacher who ran afoul of the accusations and violence of Rome. That must have been disappointing to those who believed that the winnowing fork and the threshing floor were meant for the Romans and that Jesus was the kind of savior who would deliver them by using even more violence than the Romans. More violence had always been the path to victory in the past, after all.
Maybe you’ve had some expectations that weren’t met too. It can really hurt your heart, I know. But sometimes our expectations, like those of John’s followers, aren’t based in reality and we have to be brave enough to see how things might be different in the future.
In Jesus, God lays down his sword. Victory no longer comes through violence, and that defied expectations. Our only weapon now is God’s own self: Love. It is a vulnerable and naked place to be, it does‘t feel very victorious; but, after we reject the violence of the world, that is all we are left with. The winnowing fork and the threshing floor are not for the Romans, the homos, the capitalists, or any body else. The winnowing fork and the threshing floor are not for others, they are for us and for the violence that niggles each heart towards harsh words, impatience, disregard, or a thousand other little violences we commit each day. Within each of us there is some wheat and some chaff. The fire that is the Holy Spirit is also the fire that burns, purifies, and leaves a scar.
The choice before us to day is whether or not we will continue in the old ways and seek a solution through violence, or whether we will subvert that paradigm with the only real weapon we have left: Love.
In God’s love, he has given us the winnowing fork and the threshing floor. Chaff is just an agricultural metaphor, of course. It’s really about our counterfeit lives, the ways we choose violence over love, our unrealistic expectations. We can let those things fall to the floor. It’s safe to let them be burned. What remains is the full human you were created to be.
Burning and winnowing doesn’t sound like very good news, I know.