Isaiah talks about the parched desert producing beautiful flowers. There is a brief time each year when flowers bloom in the deserts of Israel. I visited Israel in the off season during the hot summer. I remember walking down from the Mount of Beatitudes to a small church off the Sea of Galilee. Along the path under a sparse boarder of grass I could see scorpions running up and down. The little blades of grass hardly gave them much shade and I was wondering if they were running to try to get out of the hot sun. For me, I could never imagine this hot place to ever have flowers blossom. Yet Isaiah, in speaking about the New Jerusalem, is reminding us that nothing is impossible for God.
John the Baptist is puzzled about Jesus. John is expecting a Messiah of wrath. When he sends his disciples to ask if Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus almost quotes Isaiah’s description of the Messiah: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and the mutes speak. Isaiah also identifies the Messiah as God. Jesus’response is that He is the Messiah and His messianic era is not one of violence. It is rather one of beneficent with saving miracles. The Messiah is trying to save people from the wrath of the second coming. Jesus does not plan to abolish all earthly evils, but He offers us the opportunity to free us from the worst – slavery to sin. It is sin that thwarts our vocation as God’s sons and daughters. Sin causes all sorts of human bondage.
John the Baptist stands at the gate of a new era. Now anyone who follows Christ is more important because they are part of that new era, the Kingdom of God, that completely transcends the older. John is the forerunner who remains at the gates of the Kingdom, those that follow have a greater advantage because they are baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. We Christians are born of God. God has adopted us. This is why the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist.
John is in prison, cut off from everything. He knows that his life is hanging on a thread, but the external darkness is nothing compared to the darkness that arises in his heart. He no longer knows if all he worked for is true or false. He had pointed to the Rabbi of Nazareth as the Messiah, as the Lamb of God, and pressed the people and also his disciples to be united to him. He now suffers the piercing doubt that all this might have not been true, that Jesus is not the one awaited. How different this John the Baptist is from the one of the preceding Sundays when he thundered on the banks of the Jordan.
It is interesting to see Jesus, who gets angry with those who lack faith and reviles his disciples for being “men of little faith,” is so understanding of John’s uncertainty. Jesus does not refuse to provide the “signs” requested, as he does with others. “Go and tell John what you hear and see …” After John’s disciples leave, Jesus expresses such high praise for John the Baptist, “Among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
Whenever we are faced with failure and doubts about God, we come under the stress of uncertainty and we begin to question everything. These are the moments where our faith in God can grow, but too many of us have never allowed God into our hearts and are left without hope. John the Baptist, in prison and nearing the end of his life, reaches out to inquire if he should have hope. But how many of us have not made efforts to inquire into the catechism or the bible so that we can have hope? May God inspire us to “Come and see” using the resources provided by the Church to give us hope and to ultimately give us Eternal Life.