John the Baptist, in prison, sent his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus replied that the outcasts of society were being helped, and the poor were receiving good news. As the disciples were going off, Jesus told the crowds that John was the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for the promised one.
John, sitting in Herod’s prison, was quite aware of the situation in Judea. His beleaguered nation, now a province of the Roman Empire, for centuries had suffered under the oppressive rule of foreign powers. The people were victims of heavy taxation, violence, and even the desecration of their holy places and traditions. At times their own political and religious leaders were unfaithful and oppressive. In face of this pervasive evil, John believed that his mission was to prepare the way for the “coming wrath,” when God would finally destroy the evil-doers and establish his kingdom.
John’s disciples, probably with some hesitation, told him that Jesus made no mention of the “coming wrath.” Nor was there anything about rescuing John from prison. Instead, he talked about the blind, the lame, lepers, the deaf, the dead, and about poor people getting good news. Jesus, realizing that his message might not fit John’s expectation, added the remark about the blessedness of the one who hears his words, and does not lose trust in him.
We may find ourselves in situations of violence, suffering and confusion; and we too will have expectations of how God will intervene. Isn’t our expectation that God’s presence will be some manifestation of superior power to make things right? Jesus realized that only the humble power of God’s love can vanquish the reign of evil and bring about a new kingdom of justice and peace. Love must actualize itself in defending and promoting the God-given rights of every human being—the fundamental right to live and the right to participate with dignity in the life of the community. Love, which seems most weak, most impractical, most foolish in the face of evil, is the only force that can change the human heart.
Only if we are able, like John, to be freed of our own expectations, will we be able to welcome the coming of the Lord and his way of love. Then we, also like John, may prepare the way for others to welcome the Lord’s coming.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.