“What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?…”
— Matthew 11:7-15,Luke 7:24-30
This story takes place in the gospels after John the Baptizer has been thrown in prison by Herod Antipas for preaching about Jesus as the Messiah. John sends some messengers to Jesus to ask him some questions. John is hopelessly locked in prison and is probably doubting his decision to be so bold in following and proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. His questions point to the thing burning in his mind – am I ever going to get out of here? Jesus’ response was always curious to me and I always wondered what he meant when he said to the people, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” However, when you hear one of Aesop’s Fables that would have been popular and well known during this period of history, the analogy that Jesus makes jumps off the page.
The fable of the Oak and the Reed tells the story of a huge majestic oak tree and a small thin reed that were growing next to each other. They argued about who was the strongest and the oak tree always had the more convincing argument. “I am powerful, thick, and mighty, the wind can’t touch me. You bend to the ground every time a small breeze comes up. I can withstand anything.” Then, one day a huge wind came up and the oak tree is uprooted and dies. While the reed was severely bent low to the ground in the same wind, he was able to pop back up and withstand the gale forces.
Jesus was saying to the crowd, “Did you think that John the Baptizer was a reed that wouldn’t break under all this pressure? He was human, he had his breaking point, also, just like you. But I tell you, no man born of woman….” . Then he begins to brag on what a great man John is and how fearless and determined he is and that he is even more than a prophet.
Now go back and re-read the story and tell me it doesn’t make more sense. If we just knew more of the culture and the context.