The Messengers from John the Baptist (Luke 7:18-23)

The Messengers from John the Baptist

18 The disciples of John told him about all these things. John summoned two of his disciples

19 and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

20 When the men came to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”

21 At that time he cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits; he also granted sight to many who were blind.

22 And he said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

23 And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

The word about Jesus of Nazareth is spreading and eventually it reaches John the Baptist.  John sends some of his followers to find out if Jesus is “the one who is to come.”  Who is John expecting?  Scripture scholars are not in complete agreement about why John looks for this answer.  The following three theories seem to prevail.

Some scholars say that John knows the answer but that he wants his disciples to hear it from Jesus so that their loyalties may transfer from him to Jesus.

Others say that John wants to find out if Jesus is the prophet Elijah who is supposed to return and prepare the way of the Lord.  You see, in the book of Malachi there is a prophecy that Elijah will return and prepare the way of the Lord (see Mal 3:1 & 3:23).  In bringing the widow’s son to life, Jesus acted like Elijah who called upon the Lord to bring a widows son back from death (see 1 Kings 17:17-24)

Still others think that John is asking if Jesus is the long awaited Christ or if He is “the prophet” like Moses, that was promised in the book of Deuteronomy: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kindred, and will put my words into the mouth of the prophet; the prophet shall tell them all that I command.” (Dt 18:18)

It’s no oversight or accident when scripture leaves an open question.  It’s an invitation to prayer.  John and his generation waited in anticipation for someone to come.  Don’t we do the same?  Aren’t we awaiting the return of Jesus?  A good opportunity for prayerful reflection might be to compare the first century world that awaited the arrival of the Christ to the 21st century world that awaits His return.  Pray for the grace to say “come Lord Jesus.”

Additionally, as we look at this pericope we see that John’s disciples asked Jesus a straight-forward question: “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”  However, Jesus doesn’t seem to give a straight answer … or does He?

When Jesus responds to the question He is actually reciting part of a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah.  We need to understand that John’s disciples are devout men and on hearing a part of a prophecy, they would immediately have the entire prophecy fill their thoughts.  Let’s look at what would have come to mind for Johns disciples.

Say to the fearful of heart: Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall see, and the ears of the deaf be opened; Then the lame shall leap like a stag, and the mute tongue sing for joy. (Is 35:4-6b)

We immediately notice several key points.  First, it says “Be strong, do not fear!”  This reminds us of how “all were seized with fear” in the large crowd at the raising of the widow’s son. Secondly, we key in on the words “Here is your God”.  People had many different expectations about what the Messiah would be, but I think it’s safe to say that none expected God to take on flesh and come as one of us.  This prophecy, applied to Jesus, points to the divinity of the Messiah.  Finally, we see that the prophecy says “he [your God] comes to save you.”  Remember that in our reflection on raising the widow’s son we discussed how natural it is for a sinner to feel fear when anticipating his Judgement.  But Jesus doesn’t come to judge us, he comes to save us: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:17)

So, now we can look back on these last three pericopes: The Healing of a Centurion’s Slave (Luke 7:1-9), Raising of the Widow’s Son (Luke 7:11-17), and The Messengers from John the Baptist (Luke 7:18-23) and we can see how they move and flow together to bring us the message that: Jesus comes into the world with divine power and authority over life and death; that Jesus is the point where life and death meet … mercy and life prevail over death.  We see that we need not fear our God coming into the world because He has come to save us.  Thanks be to God!

In our prayerful response we can recognize our sinfulness and the necessity of salvation and we can pray for a spirit of repentance.  Further, we can pray in thanksgiving because our God has come to us in love, not for condemnation, and He saves us from death.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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