14 December  
Lk 7:18-23

John, summoning two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" When the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?'" Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, "Go and tell Jn what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.

Since earliest times commentators have puzzled over John the Baptist’s doubt.  Had he really come to doubt Jesus?  And if so, why?  He was a tempestuous man; was Jesus moving too slowly for him?  Or did the gloom of the dungeon affect his mind?  Was it himself that he doubted?  Was he feeling what Jeremiah felt when he wrote, “Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land” (Jeremiah 15:10)?  I'm sure prophets ought to doubt themselves.  If they haven't faced their own illusions and limitations what could they possibly have to say to us about God?  And when one is in the pits of self-doubt it is hard to distinguish self-doubt from doubt about God and Jesus and just about everything.  Somehow this mood of doubt that seems to have overcome John makes him more human.  He needed softening.  When he was yelling at the people he had no doubts about anything.

In the days before microphones, preachers had to project their voices with very great force, and wait after each short phrase for the echo to subside.  It is impossible to sound other than dogmatic when you talk like that.  But perhaps John’s more telling proclamation of the word was in his dungeon, quietly in the ear of fellow-prisoners, the lonely and discouraged, the fearful and the dying.  If John had had an opportunity to preach again, there would have been a different quality, I think.  His presence would have been much more like that of Jesus. 


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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