One of the sad ironies of the events surrounding Jesus was that no matter what he did, people remained sceptical. Supposing, for example, they wanted dramatic proof that he was the Messiah. Well, lepers are healed, the deaf begin to hear (and speak) and paralytics regain the full use of their limbs. Isn’t that dramatic enough? Yet many were not convinced.
Nor did it make much difference to the sceptics if Jesus gave what we might call everyday proof. He spoke in words of wisdom and encouragement. He preached love, forgiveness and reconciliation. He brought hope to the poor, not least the wonderful news that God had no favourites but regarded all people with equal love, rich or poor, slave or free, Jew or Greek. Even so, the sceptics would not be moved.
In the gospel (Matthew 11.2-11) today John the Baptist sits in his prison cell and wonders, did he get it all wrong? Had he given his life for nothing? It is a very human moment. The reply that Jesus gives quotes the words we hear first in Isaiah 35.5-6, words that were taken by the Jewish people to apply to the coming Messiah. It is a way of saying, very clearly, Yes, but without allowing the eavesdropping prison guards to carry tales to the authorities.
And yet, we might ask, in all honesty, has the world been changed? We are back exactly where we began. If you look with the eyes of faith you will see that in every generation Jesus Christ has called forth men and women to preach, to teach, to heal, to bring good news to the poor. Imagine the world without Christian schools and hospitals, missions and dispensaries. More than that, Jesus has called people together in every city and country to break bread together and to read his word, and to discover that he is alive in their midst. Christ touches their lives and our lives, and gives hope. He calls enemies to reconciliation. Of course, the sceptics will look and will see nothing. But then as we hear today from the Letter of James, ‘You too have to be patient; do not lose heart.’