John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’
As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says:
Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way before you.
‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’
Last week I was talking about how the Gospels allow different viewpoints to come across as the Good News is experienced by different people. How Mark’s simple and all encompassing message from the Baptist developed conditions and exceptions because of Matthew’s experience of trying to live the Gospel in the community that he belonged to.
This week we are with John the Baptist again, but now time has moved on. Jesus’ ministry is growing; John is in chains and, knowing the end of his life is nearing, sends a message to Jesus demanding to know if he is really the Messiah.
Or does he?
Reading Scripture for and by yourself can open up many new insights and feelings.
Listening to scripture being read on Sundays, you begin to put a certain tone to many of the well-known chapters and verse.From the Sanctuary, the Gospel is read with solemnity, authority and clarity. Re-reading scripture assumptions begin to develop; assumptions that this was said in anger; that was said as an insult; the other was a condemnation. And, not to say that Jesus isn't fully able to express these emotions, but would a Gospel of Love not seek to speak in other ways?
This occurred to me some years ago, after a re-reading of Thomas, the doubter; where Jesus’ words are heard in reassurance; as to a child.
Perhaps the same could be heard here?
There are voice games played in the theatre where a passage of text is read ‘in the style of….’ Why not try that experiment here?
We are told, we know with the benefit of hindsight, that John is the last of the Old Testament prophets; the last one who will come wielding threats and calling down fire and brimstone from an Angry God. He knows his scripture, this son of a priest; he knows what has gone before and for how long. He knows he is from a long line of prophets and holy people who have died waiting and hoping.
Perhaps, as part of his calling God has told him that he is the last; that there will be no more waiting after him. But does it seem that way?
But knowing that you seem to be following the path of many of the prophets; knowing that your life; your ministry; your chance of making a difference was about to end; wouldn’t you want reassurance? To be able to say to God as Simeon said ‘now your servant can go in peace’? Faith is a great thing but it does not belong in isolation – it needs relationship; it needs communication.
When John sends his message to Jesus perhaps it is not a voice of accusation that Jesus is not delivering the fire and brimstone as promised. Maybe it is asking for that reassurance that this is the change; this time it is different; that the Lord is offering forgiveness, healing and peace. That it has been worthwhile.
And the message in return is Jesus' promise – yes, John, it is different; you have been a good and faithful servant; peace is with you; the Kingdom is here.