They shall know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things. Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is no one besides me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: "To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear." Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and 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 John 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
According to Isaiah, the Lord creates both light and darkness, well-being and woe. These contrary forces meet in another way in the Gospel. John the Baptist, already imprisoned by Herod Antipas and surrounded by darkness and woe, sends messengers to Jesus. The question John asks show the darkness and quandary he felt, "Are you He who is come or are we to expect someone else?" Jesus’ reply brings light to John, even in his dark dungeon: "Go and report. . . The blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead people are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them." The Baptist will know that Jesus is the promised one, because of his healing works. Yet these marvelous acts of compassion were denied to John himself, who stayed in prison, soon to be executed because of the scheming revenge of Herodias and the weakness of the Tetrarch.
We too are invited to believe in Jesus as the Lord of life and death, present in both strength and weakness. But being true to him requires a strong faith. When we enjoy prosperity we may easily forget the presence of God. Similarly, amid pain and disappointment we can be embittered and rebel against God. If we are sick, we should believe that Jesus has power to cure us, even should he not do so, just as he left John the Baptist in prison. If we enjoy good health, we must see it as God’s gift to be shared and spent for others.
No logic can explain why God creates and directs darkness and woe equally as much as he forms light and well-being. We can investigate the universe without resolving this mystery. It’s impossible for the human mind to comprehend the mind of God. The prophet of the Babylonian exile who wrote today’s first reading ridicules those who pretend to advise God and to understand his ways. He asks them: "Who has held in a measure the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?" Faced with mystery, the prophet believes that God must have an answer, so sublime that none of us can comprehend it.. The moments of darkness and woe are as much God’s creation as the cycle of day and night in which we live.
John the Baptist, from his prison cell, sends some friends to Jesus to ask him, "Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?" It seems that, sitting in his prison cell, John was beginning to have doubts about Jesus. John had announced that Jesus would be a fiery prophet of judgment, with his winnowing fork in his hand, gathering the wheat into the granary and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. Jesus had not turned out quite like that. In his opening homily, according to Luke, Jesus declares that he has come to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
Indeed Jesus was the visitor from on high, the visitor from God, and his work was to reveal the hospitable love of God for all. He turned out to be less judgemental and more hospitable that John had expected, for Jesus’ coming was good news, an occasion of joy, especially for those who were broken and battered in body or mind or spirit. When we come before the Lord in our brokenness, in our poverty, in our weakness and need, we will always experience his presence as healing and life-giving and renewing. That is good news for the church, especially in these times.