15 December 2019 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William in Naples, FL
Isaiah 35, 1-6 & 10 + Psalm 146 + James 5, 7-10 + Matthew 11, 2-11
If you stop to think about John the Baptist sitting in Herod’s prison, it isn’t hard to realize what is going on in his mind. I imagine that his thinking goes something like this: “I did everything I felt called to do. I never called attention to myself. I recognized the Messiah when he came, and even though we did not agree on which of us should be baptized, I followed his wishes and did what he asked. I spoke the truth even when it was not popular and was dangerous, and look where I’ve ended up.”
I believe that John is having a crisis of faith. He is filled with doubt. He must have been filled with fear. He must have wondered why Jesus did not work some sign and get him out of that prison. After all, they were family. If Jesus could do all those things he has heard about, he surely could set him free from Herod’s prison. But, nothing happens. Either in desperation for himself or out of a desire to shift the loyalty of his disciples toward Jesus, he asks that painful question: “Are you the one?”
Jesus called John the Baptist “The greatest man born of woman.” Yet, the greatest man born of woman is left to sit alone in a prison, and there we find him waiting, longing, and perhaps even doubting. Doubt, you know, is not the opposite of faith. The opposite of faith is certainty. When you are certain about something, you don’t need faith. Probably the opposite of doubt is trust, and that is what John was struggling with, trust. So, he wonders if Jesus is trustworthy, and his answer comes from those disciples who went to Jesus.
John is not the only person who sits in a prison waiting and longing for the Messiah. Many in this world today are waiting, wondering, and longing. Their prison is ignorance, poverty, abusive relationships, addiction, and their own sinful choices, and they can only look to us for an answer to their question: “Is Jesus the one we are waiting for?” “Is Jesus the one who can save us?” It ought to be obvious to anyone by now that no King, President, no Prime Minister, no Emperor, or Dictator is the answer. No ideology and no “ism” this world can make up will free us from whatever it is that holds us back. Doubt goes with the longing because doubt can eventually lead us to faith. Those who live their lives certain that this idea or program, political agenda or political party will save us have yet to believe that this world cannot offer us what we truly desire. They are yet to affirm that Jesus is the answer. They have not yet seen what a difference a life lived in relationship to God can make, and there is only one reason for that. We have not adequately and totally revealed the power of Jesus Christ to them. My friends, John the Baptist, great as he was, never understood that Christ would die for us. He never experienced the Resurrection, and he never received the Holy Eucharist. He was never Baptized in the Holy Spirit as we have been. There is a power in us he could never have imagined. The Word of God speaks to us today about the imprisoned and about the mission of Jesus Christ handed on to us who share his life through his very Body and Blood. This world needs and waits, longs and yearns to know what a difference life lived with Jesus Christ makes. They will only know by seeing our lives transformed by the peace which only God can give. Every act of kindness and mercy, every offence forgiven will leave people wondering what motivates us to be so kind. Every generous response to a someone begging at the side of the road with a smile and blessing may open one heart to the love of God and the peace of his Kingdom. Knowing us is to know Jesus Christ, and in coming to know him, they will have grasped the answer to the longing of their hearts.