Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."
- Matthew 11:1-6
On Saturday, we read that while Jesus was speaking with the disciples of John the Baptist, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live." So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of his garment. For she said to herself, "If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well." But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well." And the woman was made well from that hour. When Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, "Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping." And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land." The lectionary skips over Matthew 9:27 - Matthew 10:42. These readings include the healing of people who are blind, casting out a mute demon and accusations of demonic influence by the Pharisees, the choosing of the Twelve Apostles, their first mission and instructions, Jesus' teachings on discipleship including persecution and martyrdom, and His encouragement to fearless witness. Today we begin reading chapter 11.
Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" The Church Fathers teach that John the Baptist asks this question in order to guide his disciples to Jesus. Jesus has not proclaimed openly His status as Messiah to the world; His ministry reveals His identity through signs and teachings, but not overt proclamation. My study bible says that undoubtedly, John's own faith was also strengthened through Christ's response in the following verses.
Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." Jesus names signs He's performed. These are signs that are predicted by Isaiah to accompany the coming of the Messiah (see Isaiah 35:5-6, 61:1). My study bible says that Jesus performed these miracles in the presence of John's disciples (Luke 7:21) so they could see with their own eyes works that only the Messiah could do.
The Old Testament prophesies look forward to the day of the Messiah. Jesus teaches the disciples of John the Baptist that those Scriptures are fulfilled in their presence, that they are witness to these events. But we have to wonder about expectations and fulfillment. It seems that even those who confidently expect this day are likely to miss it -- perhaps especially those who are experts in the Scripture are missing what is in front of their eyes. It tells us something about witnessing: that often we have to be prepared for an acceptance of truth we don't want to see. The leadership will demand signs from Jesus, more than He has done and on command. They will demand a spectacular sign as "proof" of His identity, asking, in a sense, to be convinced, coerced, persuaded into faith. But Jesus does not come into the world to convince or to persuade. His ministry is not about convincing or coercing or manipulating people. That is not His aim. His mission is to follow the will of the Father in the unfolding of what He has to teach and how He calls those who will respond and hear. It touches on a kind of faith that asks for our response -- not our compulsion. Faith is a kind of voluntary action within the heart of someone; that is, it is a mysterious process to my way of thinking -- a kind of internal response that holds a secret in the heart. It is a response to something we love. How that love is unlocked and how it works is a great, deep secret to me, a mystery, a working of God deep within a person and perhaps at the root within us of relationship to Creator. In chapter 16, when Peter confesses that Jesus is Christ, the Son, Jesus will say, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (see Matthew 16:13-20). That's a tremendous revelation in itself, that somewhere within ourselves communication (revelation) takes place from God the Father. It is a profound statement about human capacity for relationship to the divine, that which is so far beyond our understanding and yet may work to reveal understanding to us. This goes to a profound depth within ourselves that must remain a great mystery -- and yet it is that depth of relationship that Jesus calls to within ourselves. His ministry works in signs so that we respond in that capacity, and to His call. The heart contains these great secrets of relationship and of love, but He's not going to prove this to anyone. Love can't be compelled or coerced. The signs are all there, and yet those who are more expert in the Scripture than all others will refuse to see and acknowledge what is happening; even accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of demons (9:34). If Jesus' presence in the world as Incarnate man can provoke such profoundly disparate response, imagine how we can so easily be blind ourselves to what we do in terms of rejecting our own faith and failing to understand our own blindness. It seems to me that we can endlessly study the Scriptures and still fail to see what is happening right in front of us: our brothers and sisters who suffer, His Church that is diminished or harmed by one thing or another, God's love that is present to us and waiting to reveal itself in the heart. This really isn't about only what Jesus did or said 2,000 years ago. It has not retained its meaning if we don't understand that each of us stands in the places of those who witnessed His ministry, His Spirit is at work here and now, and we are each called in the present to hear and to witness what happens in our own lives and hearts. That's really the message in every reading of the Gospel. Jesus will teach, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). This is about each one of us and our response within, our capacity to love what is within us right now. The way of persuasion and coercion isn't His way. We're not to be all-knowing, but our hearts must be open to find His love.