Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11
What was the question again?
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of my favourite books is the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, by the late lamented Douglas Adams, a trilogy which contains five books…
The Hitch-Hiker’s Story is a search for the answers to the fundamental questions of life: why are people born, why do they die, why do they spend much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?
A hugely sophisticated race builds a computer which takes seven and a half million years to tell us that the answer is, most definitely, 42
…because the problem is really, that we didn’t actually know what the question was. It was just the ultimate question to Life, the Universe and Everything. Knowing that the answer was 42 could lead you to a number of possibilities:
- How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man? (Thank you, Bob Dylan)
- What is the value of human existence?
- or even “What is Six times Seven?”
In the end, they had to construct an even bigger computer to work out what the question is, so big that it was often mistaken for a blue-green planet on the western spiral arm of the galaxy and which was given the name by its inhabitants (and participants in the computer program) the slightly uninspiring name of “The Earth”.
Sadly, in the story before the question is decided, the planet gets destroyed to make way for a bypass. Leaving one human, Arthur Dent still in his dressing gown traipsing around the universe: searching through time and space, seeking this question, seeking this truth.
It turns out that knowledge of both the ultimate question and the ultimate answer is, in Douglas Adam’s warped world, mutually exclusive: knowledge of one precludes knowledge of the other.
But, the ultimate question and the ultimate answer can be known, and has been known for some time: it’s just that we haven’t been looking for it in the right place.
Before I tell you this monumental thing: the fundamental question to the universe, I want to ask you a question: “How will this answer affect your life?”
The Hitchhiker’s Guide is an allegory. It is a parable. The story is full of some of the most glorious silliness, but it is a story about you and me. We do not cruise around the universe or travel through time looking for questions and answers, but it might feel like we do.
What if, after all of this struggle: travelling the universe in search of truth, only to discover that the answer is “42” – a pointless, meaningless nothing of an answer – a futility. Is life a futility?
What if after years of study at school, the answer is “42”
What if, after decades of work: some of it stimulating and challenging but much of it dreary, dull and repetative, all just to make money and feed the famility, and the answer is “42”
What if, in the later years of our lives, when we start to look at the horizon and look beyond the shallow and material, the answer is “42”
“Do you mean that’s it? That’s all there is? I never even got around to asking the question?”
This is really the fundamental question of the universe, and unlike in Douglas Adams’ fiction, it does have a real answer. We have heard the question asked this morning in Holy Scripture…
“Are you the one who is to come? Or do we look for another?”
This is the question that the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus the Christ.
“Are you the one who is to come? Or do we look for another?”
This is the question that will be asked at the end of our lives.
“Are you the one who is to come? Or do we look for another?” This is the question that we ask at the beginning of our lives, our real lives as a new creation in Christ.
It is the question of Life, the Universe and Everything (the title of Adams’ fourth book in the er… Trilogy) Are you disappointed that that the question is so simple? But this question is not at all simple. This is THE Question for all time, for the entire universe. The hard part is that you are left to answer the question. The answer is not “42”.
Jesus looks at the disciples of John the Baptist. Their question is a good question. They ask the question with eyes open and a sincere heart. The rumours are wild. The politicians and priests speculate in the back rooms. The villagers murmur amongst themselves.
Is Jesus of Nazareth also Jesus the Christ?
Jesus looks into the hearts of the men before him. His answer was recorded by those who loved him. But his answer is a cryptic answer, which I am sure left them scratching their heads even more.
Jesus said, “After you leave, declare to John the things that you have heard and seen. The blind receive sight. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The poor have good news proclaimed. Blessèd is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
And then Jesus says, “What did you expect? Some kind of plant flapping in the breeze? Did you come out to the desert to find a king is fancy clothes? Did you come out to find a prophet? Well, you have found a prophet, but even more than a prophet.”
Now that you have heard the question and the answer, what next?
The prophet Isaiah cried out, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice, and blossom… And the burning sand (a mirage) shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water…. And a highway shall be there and a way, and it shall be called, The Holy Way…. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
The very rhythm of the earth changes when the Messiah sets foot upon it. The rhythm is a melody of joy. The earth knows life, new life, abundant waters flow. The mirage shall become real. The waters of new life shall flow. The Messiah has come.
The ransomed shall return with singing and everlasting joy.
You who are ransomed by your depression and loneliness. You who are ransomed by your drug or alcohol addiction. Those captured and bound by abusive or unsatisfactory relationships, or dead end job. You who are burdened with illness or insurmountable guilt.
Jesus Christ comes for you.
The ransomed shall return to the promised land. That means you. That means me. That means all of us who come to encounter God in these holy and sacred sacraments.
“Are you the one who is to come? Is He the One?” The answer is yes. What are we to do? For now, we are to rejoice. Then, we are to continue the work Jesus began: to love, to serve, to praise, to heal, to reconcile, to pray, to rejoice.
“Are you the one who is to come? Is He the One?” The answer is yes. With a resounding joy. The answer is yes, not 42, but YES. One of the translations of “Amen” is YES, so let the people of God respond in the same way as Our Lady responded to the Angel of the Lord: Amen – YES