While in prison, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. John the Baptist was the one who first recognized the Messiah, when the Holy Spirit came on Jesus in his baptism. Is John now doubting?
This is unlikely, and John asks the question more for his followers than for himself, so that they might come to see what he already knows: Jesus is the Messiah, and through him the signs of the Kingdom are being revealed. John is helping his own disciples recognize that he is passing away, while Jesus whom they must now follow, is increasing.
Nevertheless, even though John does not doubt the Lord, the news from Jesus is a consolation and confirmation for him in his time of trial. Shortly after the baptism of Jesus, John was arrested for having spoken against king Herod’s unlawful marriage to Herodias, his sister-in-law. At the very high point of his life’s mission, which is to “prepare the way of the Lord,” John is taken away from his mission. At the very moment of welcoming the groom for the wedding, he the best man cannot participate in the celebration, due to his arrest. The suffering of this imprisonment must have been profound; the darkness, the sadness, the regret.
The message sent to him by Jesus is a confirmation of his life, and a source of profound peace that enables John to accept his situation as part of God’s plan. He who witnessed publicly to thousands of people through fiery preaching now witnesses in obscurity, in silent pain and suffering.
In our parish [and every parish] there are a large number of homebound parishioners, who due to the debilitation of old age or sickness are not able to get out and go to church. Many of these parishioners were here every Sunday, they were once very active, serving in many capacities. Now they are almost forgotten, and their contact with the outside world is increasingly limited. They are imprisoned, like John.
Like John, they undergo the trial of questioning the meaning of this isolation, and strive to accept it humbly according to God’s will. It is incumbent on the church to visit these imprisoned, with the Advent message of hope; to let them know that the Kingdom of God flourishes, and that their silent witness contributes to that flourishing. That in fact, their prayer and sacrifice is the indispensible source of the fruitfulness of parish life. God sees the hidden witness and character of those who suffer in this way, and accepts their martyrdom as a pleasing gift.