“Is this the one, or are we to wait for another?”
A great deal has happened since we encountered John in the wilderness last Sunday. The bulldozers have come in and razed the place and the wild man now lives behind bars, domesticated and vulnerable to the whims of whomever. John’s call to repent went too far. He was too much himself, perceived as too threatening to a society whose "peace" depended upon control and order. Nature offends the factory. A manipulative political order has a way of expressing displeasure at its critics by clapping them in irons, sending them to the far reaches of the empire, subjecting them to extreme discomfort. Torture is the psyche’s most extreme projection; it forces another to bear and suffer for my own creeping dissatisfactions that though I have all the force in the world at my control, I am still only a shadow of a person. In hurting another, I am literally taking it all out on them: casting off the very waste material of my heart which would save me in order to destroy you.
Even in his cage, John wanted to know. He wanted to know whether his words had rung true, as any of us who speak with God want to know: Have I heard right? Did I serve the truth? Have I made straight the way through the wilderness and and helped others to see? So he sent disciples to ask the one he had baptized and watched go into the desert; he sent disciples to the one upon whom the dove had descended. Are you the one?
Jesus knew better than to answer that question. Perhaps he was not ready to answer it. Answers are like the sower's seeds; they need time to ripen. If they are told outright too soon, they are lost, just as an unseasonable frost can kill budding fruit. Jesus did not address the Messiah question. Rather he told John’s disciples to look around them and see what John had helped them to see. John’s disciples may or may not have been able to recite the doctrinal criteria for messiah-ship, but they had been in the river with John and had scales washed from the eyes of head and heart. They saw the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead raised, and the poor having good news brought to them. These are important, for they are the very obvious signs that God is near.
It’s about time.