Wednesday of Week 3 of Advent – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 7:19-23

The disciples of John the Baptist had seen many of the wonderful things that Jesus was doing and came back to tell John about them. John then told two of his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he was the one who was to come, or whether they should continue to look for someone else.

It is not clear in today’s Gospel whether John really wanted to know the answer to this question, or whether it was primarily for his disciples’ benefit. It is reasonable to suppose that some of John’s disciples may not have felt too happy to see their leader being eclipsed by an unknown newcomer. And we know from John’s Gospel that some of the Baptist’s disciples actually transferred their allegiance from him to Jesus (John 1:35 ff).

The question they are told to ask Jesus is: “Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another?” This seems to refer to the return of that fiery reforming prophet, Elijah. This was to happen “before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day” (Mal 3:23). As so often happens in the Gospel, the answer comes indirectly. When John’s disciples reached Jesus, they actually saw him curing many people of their diseases, plagues and evil spirits, and giving sight to people who could not see. Then Jesus says to them:

Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed, and
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised up,
the poor have good news preached
to them.

And that is a perfectly clear and unambiguous answer to their question. Why? Because in a well-known Messianic prophecy Isaiah long ago had said:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound… (Isa 61:1-2)

Elsewhere Isaiah had also said:

The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy (Isa 35).

All these signs of the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah, are clearly being realised in Jesus. In fact, at the beginning of his public life, in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus had read this passage and then announced that it was being realised before their very eyes. He could not have given a stronger indication of his identity. The answer then is clearly, “Yes. Jesus is the One who is to come” because all these things are happening before their very eyes.

We should also notice what are the signs of the Messiah’s presence. It is not in any manifestation of political power and domination or the destruction of traditional enemies, nor is it found in a complex set of doctrinal beliefs. Instead, it is found in the healing of people who are sick, weak, or have other disabilities, and the restoring of them to wholeness in their individual and social lives and in their relationship with God.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the One who comes, let us remember that the work of Jesus to liberate those who are lame, deaf, blind, poor, ostracised – in every sense of those words – still needs to be done and that it is the responsibility of each one of us to make our own contribution. And let us pray to be liberated from our failures to see, hear, speak, or act – failures that prevent us from making that contribution to the building of the Kingdom.

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