Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?
While he was still a preborn baby in the womb, John the Baptist had identified Jesus by the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1:41). As an adult he had personally seen the Holy Spirit – how cool is that? – descend upon Jesus and heard the voice of God the Father from heaven proclaiming, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). This fulfilled a prophecy that God gave only to John to help him identify the Messiah, and John proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Son of God (John 1:29-34).
John knew – without a doubt – Jesus was the One! So why would he send to Jesus asking, “Are you the one”? Why indeed!
John the Baptist is now in prison. Events are not working out as he expected. Perhaps he was anticipating many more years of ministry, but instead he found himself jailed for speaking the truth to King Herod. John is disappointed, discouraged. We can’t be sure, but it seems John expected the Messiah to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth not just spiritually, but physically. So he sends a message to Jesus. “Are you the one, or did I miss something? Are you the one, or are you just another voice preparing the way for the real Messiah?” What John is asking is perhaps the saddest question ever uttered in the history of mankind: “Was I wrong to put my hope in you … to invest my entire life in you?”
Jesus responds, “Tell John everything that is happening.” The evidence is clear, the Kingdom is at hand: the blind see, the lame walk, the diseased are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. But He also tells John, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me”. (Matthew 11:4-6).
Blessed is anyone who does not give up because they don’t see the results they expect! The Gospel is proclaimed to the poor – but it doesn’t magically give them money. The Kingdom of God is here – it is among you and in you (Luke 17:21) – but it doesn’t magically mean you will have no difficulties in life, that you will meet no opposition.
John failed to realize – or what is more likely, in his desperate and ultimately tragic situation (he would be beheaded) John momentarily forgot – that the Lamb of God was not just meek and humble but was also the sacrificial lamb, the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Jesus was telling him, “Don’t give up because you think you have lost the battle. Things are not as they seem.”
Jesus could have said more: “John, you are alone, put in prison by one who respects you but who will be compelled by those around him to put you to death. I, too, will soon be alone, and I, too, will be put to death by one who respects me but is compelled by those around him. It may seem like your life purpose has failed, but it has not … for I have not failed and I will not fail. In the world you will have tribulation, but receive My peace because your hope is accomplished. With My peace your joy is truly filled to overflowing, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
Word of God: speak! Non nobis Domine+
by Fr. Dana Jackson