John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ‘ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
John the Baptist sent two of his followers to ask: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
Even John the Baptist had to ask that question!
Despite today’s reading being so near the beginning of the gospel narrative, many wondrous things were already being reported about Jesus. Practical working men had been called and had followed him. Many had already been cured of lifelong and life-limiting medical conditions. Radical new words had been uttered about how humanity might enter into a new relationship with God. John had heard the news of Jesus, and John wondered.
John was born to fulfil a specific divine purpose. As with Jesus, we know nothing of his early life other than he was the son of devout parents. The miraculous nature of his conception and birth, and the reason for that divine gift, would have been explained to him from the moment his young mind could comprehend the words. John would also have grown up knowing the family stories about the cousin who was born just months after him.
As John grew up he developed an ascetic spirituality that brought him closer and closer to understanding God’s purpose for his life. We do not know precisely how or when, but we do know that John came to understand his role as the forerunner of God’s promised Messiah. It was for John to fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah. And then, he heard what Jesus was doing. There must have been a moment when John really, truly and profoundly understood what was happening around him. Then, John sent two of his followers to ask: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
Jesus’ response to John’s question is both short and complete. Jesus quotes from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is the same as John. John fulfilled his part in the story, it is now for Jesus to complete the prophecy, as can already be seen in the way: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. Yes, John, the Messiah is come!
As we continue journeying towards Christmas, and especially in these challenging times, it is easy for us to have moments where, like John, we need reassurance. That reassurance comes from our faith in God and the openness of our relationship with him. We will soon remind ourselves of the joy of Christ’s birth. Let us not be distracted from the certainty and the totality of that joy. Let us put aside doubt and hesitancy, and let us prepare the way for that celebration in prayerful confidence and Christian hope.