What has happened to John the Baptist? Last week, he was boldly proclaiming in the desert that Jesus was coming. He was saying that Jesus was mightier than he, and that Jesus would baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. But the John in today’s gospel seems a very different man. Arrested by Herod, John seems to question whether Jesus is the Messiah after all. He sends his disciples to Jesus with the question “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” This is a huge change in perspective. Instead of proclaiming Jesus, John is questioning Jesus. The herald who was so bold and confident is now tentative and shaken. It seems that John the Baptist has doubts.
The important thing in today’s gospel, however, is not the doubt of John the Baptist but how Jesus responds to it. When Jesus hears John’s question, he does not attack or demean John for asking it. He does not criticize John for his lack of faith. Instead, Jesus accepts John and tries to lead him to the truth. He asks John to see and hear the good things that are around him: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. Jesus is hoping that if John can recognize all the goodness that is flowing from Jesus’s ministry, he will be able to set his doubt aside and believe in Jesus again. Jesus responses to John by understanding his doubt and continuing to love him as one of his own.
Sometimes you and I, like John the Baptist, doubt God’s goodness. When there is a crisis in our family and we see the people we love treating one another as enemies, we ask: “How can God let this happen? Does God really care?” When someone who is important to us is diagnosed with a fatal disease or taken from us in death, we say, “Doesn’t God know how important these people are to me? Why did not God protect them?” When we look at the corruption, violence, and the injustice in our world, we can begin to doubt whether God is really committed to us and whether we can trust God’s promise of life and joy. Sometimes our doubts are compounded by embarrassment. We are ashamed that our faith is so weak and that our questions run so deep.
When we start to feel this way, it is important to remember Jesus’s response to John the Baptist. Jesus treats us in the same way. He does not criticize us for our lack of faith. He does not reject us, but understands our questioning and tries to lead us to life. He asks us to look at the good things around us, the blessings that we still have in our families, in our relationships, and in our world. Jesus is hoping that if we truly see the good things that we still possess, we can quiet our doubt and believe in him.
Jesus is not shaken by our doubt. He is not offended by our questioning. When we believe in him, he loves us. When we struggle to believe in him, he loves us still. We are always his own, even when we doubt his love. And it is through his love that we can believe again.