2 Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
4 Jesus responded, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. 5 Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me.”
7 When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John:“What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A stalk blowing in the wind? 8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in refined clothes? Look, those who wear refined clothes are in royal palaces.9 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 He is the one of whom it is written: Look, I’m sending my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.
11 “I assure you that no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is violently attacked as violent people seize it. 13 All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John came. 14 If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let the person who has ears, hear.
Matthew 11: 2-15 (CEB)
(For use with the MORNING Daily Prayer)
Why would John the Baptist, prophet, messenger called to prepare the way for Jesus, cousin to Jesus, baptizer of Jesus, who knew Him in the womb, need to ask Jesus if he was the one to come? For me John’s questioning had more to do with his and Jesus’ disciples’ rivalry as depicted in Luke 7:16-18, Matthew 9:14, Mark 2:18 and John 3:25 than John’s uncertainty. John’s disciples would have had a pretty hard life trying to follow him through the wilderness, imitating his way of wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around the waist and having a diet of locusts and wild honey and hearing John proclaiming a message that made folks uncomfortable and feeling that their world was being turned upside down. Jesus’ disciples, as it appeared to them, had it easier and hence the rivalry. This rivalry must have been pretty intense as all four gospel mention it and the comparison of the two groups of disciples on fasting and prayer and cleansing rituals and who was the valid baptizer. So John who is sitting in prison with an uncertain future must have been feeling an urgency that his disciples heed his prophetic message and follow Jesus. Especially since his disciples seemed to be just hanging around the prison, with nothing to do except gossip and worry about him. Also John would have been concerned about the rivalry that would have made it difficult for his disciples to believe that Jesus is that one that John speaks of his not being “worthy to untie the sandal straps”. John had a plan, he sent two of his disciples to find out if Jesus is the one and “Jesus responded, ‘Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them. Happy are those who don’t stumble and fall because of me'”. (Matt 11:4-6) With this humble act, John has gotten himself out of the way so that his disciples can follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
This story coming at the beginning of a new Christian year, Advent, challenges us all to evaluate why being a disciple of Jesus matters? How do we define discipleship? What in our lives is competing for our attention so that following Jesus wholeheartedly is a stumbling block. What humble acts will help us to decrease so that Jesus may increase. After reflecting on these questions for a while, let us rededicate ourselves to follow Jesus with all our heart, mind, soul and strength as we begin another year.
A Prayer for the Twentieth Day of Advent
Jesus, help us to follow you
Help us and your whole church to work together to bring the good news
of God’s kingdom to all people.
Help us to work for peace in our communities and the wider world.
Guide the leaders of the nations to work for peace and for the good of all people.
Help us to be active members of the communities to which we belong,
and to look for opportunities to work together to serve others.
Help us to comfort and care for those who are sick, distressed or in any kind of need.
Help us, as we remember the dead, to look to the day when
we will share with them in the eternal joys of heaven.
Help us to pray continually for the needs of the world,
and to have faith in the power and love of God.
We offer all these prayers in the name of Jesus.
Executive Assistant to the Dean of Union Presbyterian Seminary at Richmond