Today’s reading is one of those enigmatic passages that sort of defies explanation. We see that from prison John the Baptist has sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him if He is the messiah. But John was Jesus’ cousin. Just a few years before John was in the dessert proclaiming the time of the messiah was at hand. John pointed Jesus out when Jesus came to the Jordan. John identified him as the “lamb of God”. John baptized Jesus and saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus immediately after. John heard the voice of the Father proclaim Jesus as his son. Has John forgotten all this? Why would John ask this question now?
I think the answer at least partially lies in Jesus response (doesn’t it always?). Jesus says to John’s disciples.
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
But in this answer Jesus is quoting the book of Isiah. Jesus’ answer combines two verses, the second of which is this:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
TO PROCLAIM LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES,
AND THE OPENING OF THE PRISON TO THOSE WHO ARE BOUND
John would have known this prophecy of the messiah, yet he languishes in prison. Perhaps in his dark moments John is calling out once more asking when the prophecy will be fulfilled. Jesus’ answer is basically to say that it has begun and the John must be patient.
I think another; perhaps better, explanation is that John is giving his disciples to Jesus. His followers are holding on, hoping he will be released from prison. John sends them to Jesus so that they will meet and converse with Him. Once they meet with, John disciples, who are certainly holy men, should follow Jesus. John’s actions are consistent with what he said in the desert, in essence, ‘don’t look to me, look to him.’