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John the Baptist
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’
Jesus asked the crowds: What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?
We are curious creatures. We seem to be hard-wired to make long journeys and to join queues, even if that means standing about in the cold and the rain, just because we are curious. We may have nothing but the vaguest notion about what might await us at the end of our journeys and queues, and yet, overcome with curiosity, we sally forth. Sometimes we sally forth time and time again.
Today, we hear Jesus ask the crowds that went into the wilderness to see and hear John the Baptist the simple question: ‘Why?’ What was the motivation that caused them to step outside of their normal routines and make that particular journey? Was it in response to a profound need? Was it brought about by a sense of divine calling? Was it just a matter of following the crowd? Was their journey simply a matter of idle curiosity?
In earlier times people attended their churches out of a sense of duty. In those times assumptions were made about such issues as belief, faith and commitment. Over the centuries it has become obvious that many have made the journey from a ‘blind’ faith to a ‘curious’ faith, that is from unquestioning acceptance to a need for explanation and proof. Many are curious about the Church and the message it seeks to communicate but, too often, their curiosity is stifled by a wall of antiquated practices and doctrinal anachronisms. Today we hear Jesus ask a question of the crowds that we should be asking ourselves!
Jesus’ question to the crowds, and to us, is about faith. He asked the crowds who went to see John: What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? Jesus’ question digs down into the superficiality of the curiosity of those crowds. Jesus’ question also digs down into the superficiality of our curiosity. Those first century crowds were under no obligation to go and see John in the wilderness, just as we are under no obligation to attend our local churches. But, our reading makes it clear that if we allow our curiosity to be channelled along the way prepared by John, we will surely be led into the presence of the Messiah, the one through whom: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
Let us pray that, through our words and actions, the Good News of Jesus Christ might be brought to the curious. Let us pray that their faith might be fed and nurtured, and that they might come to play their part in leading others from idle curiosity to active faith.