In today’s gospel, we are again in the desert with John the Baptist – at least as far as Jesus asking the people (who apparently went out to see John the Baptist in the desert): “What did you go out to the desert to see…” In other words, what were you expecting? I would suggest Jesus is simply asking them to remember what motivated them to take the trip out into the dessert, to the Jordon River. If you have ever been to the Holy Land you know that Jerusalem to the Jordan River is not a walk in the park.Jesus is asking them to remember that they were looking for something different than the finery and glitz of the Temple, someone different than religious leaders of the day, something different than what they had and were being offered. They went looking for Hope rooted in the words of a prophet. The people knew their own history of prophets – they went looking for a firebrand.
Like the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading who gave hope to the people in Exile, the people of John the Baptist’s day want to taken back into the enduring love of God
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great tenderness I will take you back.
In an outburst of wrath, for a moment
I hid my face from you;
But with enduring love I take pity on you,
says the LORD, your redeemer. (Is 54:7-8)
Jesus is reminding them why they went and confirming John’s as a prophet
among those born of women, no one is greater than John;
yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he. (Luke 7:28)
And reminding them that John is the herald salvation, but the one speaking to them is the gateway to that salvation.
The Pharisee, scribes, Chief Priest, and elders were expecting something, someone else and are now just a few months from condemning Jesus to a Roman death. The followers of John the Baptist are returning to tell their leader what they have seen. The people in Jerusalem are trying to reconcile their expectations with the one standing before them.
That is always the challenge: reconciling what we have come to expect with (and sometimes against) the Word of God when he arrives in our lives.