John’s disciples told him about (Jesus). Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
When we read Scripture, we often have to speculate about why somebody did what they did or said what they said because their motives are not revealed. In today's passage, we find John the Baptist sending two of his disciples to Jesus with a rather strange question: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" The question is odd because it was John the Baptist who announced the arrival of Jesus. He said, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie" (John 1:26-27).
Scripture says that "the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). John said many other wonderful things about Jesus, so it seems shocking that John would now be expressing doubt that Jesus was the Messiah! I have heard it suggested that John wasn't expressing doubt. His question was intended for the benefit of his disciples, to clear THEIR doubt because he, himself, could never have doubted who Jesus was. Although the narrative doesn't support this theory, it could very well be the truth. As I said, we have to speculate in the absence of clear-cut facts. But the real question is, why does John's doubt shock people so much?
The answer is that we tend to expect perfection from people who are spiritual guides. I find this baffling because if there is one thing we should have learned from Scripture, it is that all its heroes failed at various points in their lives and sometimes failed miserably! David, of course, immediately comes to mind because of that sordid thing with Bathsheba, but Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Peter, Paul — every single one of them — goofed up on occasion. So why not John the Baptist? Did he cease being mortal because he was a prophet? Did temptations cease because he was a pious man? Did he never give in to temptation because he was so full of grace he just couldn't sin?
I really want us to think about this today because we have unrealistic expectations of "holy" people. Consider Mother Teresa, whom everybody respects and honors as a holy person. A book of letters written by her revealed that she was deeply tormented about her faith and suffered long periods of doubt about God. I found it heartening that the church did not destroy her letters as she had requested but made them public because they wanted us to know that these things are part of the faith journey. What matters is that we continue the journey and complete it despite the things that come our way.
That is what made Mother Teresa a hero. And John the Baptist. And Peter. And all the others. May we be heroes as well.