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 offense at me.” Matthew 11:2-6
John the Baptist is in prison. His life is difficult and weighed down with anxiety. He had predicted and expected a fire-breathing Messiah that would separate the wheat (the repentant) from the chaff (unrepented). John envisioned a Messiah that would gather the repentant (wheat) unto himself and burn the unrepentant (chaff) with an unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:12).
When John hears of Jesus’ works of healing, mercy, and preaching to the poor, he questions whether Jesus is the awaited Messiah because Jesus’ works do not fit John’s expectations of what the long-awaited Messiah would or should be doing. He sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus sends the disciples back to John with a response indicating that Jesus’ works correspond and echo Isaiah’s vision of a Messiah that would come to give light to those in gloom and darkness, give fresh joy to the meek, lift up the neediest of people, and wipe away their tears and disgrace (Is. 29:18-19; 25:8).
Jesus’ response to John’s question, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense [emphasis mine] at me,” implies that John has taken offense at Jesus. The Greek word Matthew uses 12 times in the gospel for the word offense is skandalivzw or scandalize. John becomes scandalized because Jesus was not fulfilling Messiah’s mission as John understood it or wanted it to be. John’s misunderstanding challenges his faith and brings him to miss out on the blessing and joy of Jesus’ ministry. Instead of receiving a blessing and joy, John questions Jesus and his works of evangelism and mercy with the poor and the vulnerable. For John, the expected Messiah is a hardliner, not a healer, a harsh judge, not a heart warmer. For John, the Messiah has some serious and urgent spiritual and social sifting to do if the world was going to become clearly ordered. That urgent mission, in John’s view, is being left unattended because Jesus – if he was the Messiah – was occupied, fellowshipping with the outcasts and the vulnerable. Jesus’ response, while not meeting John’s immediate expectations of Messiah, was meant to assure John and strengthen his spirit with the knowledge that Jesus was indeed the Messiah he and the world waited for.
Matthew does not follow up with a report about the effect Jesus’ response had on John’s faith. Matthew does, however, write that Jesus honors John and says that no one born of women was greater than John the Baptist (Mt. 11:11). We can trust that John did find spiritual consolation, assurance, and strength from Jesus’ message affirming that the wait for Messiah was over.
Sometimes our faith is shaken when our expectations of Jesus Christ are unmet, especially when we want Christ to show up in a quick and powerful way at times when our lives are troubled. Maybe you find yourself in a place of questioning your faith this Christmas. We’ve all been there from time to time in our pilgrimage of discipleship. My prayer for you in this Advent season of faith-building is that you will encounter Christ in a new way that reveals the depth of his expansive love for you and others. I pray that Jesus Christ, God with us, would give light to the areas of gloom and darkness in your life, give you fresh joy, lift you up, and wipe away your tears and disgrace (Is. 29:18-19; 25:8). Above all, I pray that the Holy Spirit will assure you that Jesus is the one you have been waiting for; there is no other.
Prayer from James 5:7-10
God, we are impatient. We pray for the grace of understanding and patience with your mysterious ways. Draw near to us, stand by us, and strengthen our hearts. Save us from grumbling against you and others. Help us to draw strength in our times of troubles from the prophets who suffered for speaking in your name and from your holy passion. Amen.