Doubting John The Baptist

Christ is risen!

Paul Tillich once said, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” Interesting!

Real life is filled with moments of doubt and any honest person has to admit that doubt rears its ugly head in our lives from time to time. The mistake is two-fold – Either trying to ignore doubt or allowing doubt to swallow our life whole. Both reactions are wrong because they deny reality. Pretending I’m not suffering from doubt and allowing doubt to make me its prisoner are both wrong. But there is a path forward IF we desire it.

Too many times, moments of doubt are used by the enemy of your soul to cause you to give up or hide in shame. But doubt has never been fatal if it’s dealt with wisdom and patience. On this day when we recall the ministry of St. John the Baptizer, doubt can become a moment of truth and revelation!

Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 11:2-15:

At that time, when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

St. John the Forerunner is jailed because of his unflinching message of moral clarity and bold declaration of timeless truths in the face of a society bent on making excuses for their own embrace of immorality. He has staked his life on the timeless truth of God’s wisdom and the identity of our Lord Jesus as the One sent by God to Israel as Messiah. And now he is going to be executed! In the face of this pressure, he wonders “Am I wrong?”

Look how St. John’s moment of doubt is made harmless by God’s love.

First He tells the men John sent to question the Lord Go and Tell what you See and Hear.” You see, doubt isn’t overcome merely by thinking about it. Doubt melts in the face of active observation of God’s work in the world. Philosophy and mere intellectual pursuit are good but it will never be enough to overcome doubt if it isn’t married to action! Some of the most educated people I know are unbelievers!

Second, Jesus teaches that doubt melts when the Good News is put into action. Just as doubt melts in the face of observing the work of God, so doubt melts when real people have their lives actually transformed by the Good News. Observation is just the first step in melting doubt. The next step comes when the Good News actually affects and transforms your own life. The Orthodox faith isn’t a spectator’s sport. We are meant to PRACTICE the faith BECAUSE when you do the faith, you are transformed. And that melts doubt completely.

Finally, doubt melts in the face of knowing who you really are. Our Lord finishes this ministry to St. John at his darkest hour by reaffirming John’s true identity. He is actually the last Old Testament prophet. He is the promised Prophet that was to come to prepare the way for the Messiah. It didn’t matter that the majority of Israel didn’t believe it. His true identity melted the doubt he struggles with at this terrible moment in his life.

Today’s commemoration of St. John the Baptist and the third finding of the head of the saint. By the way, I always find it fascinating how the Historic Church has us remember events like this. As someone who converted to Orthodoxy, I am not formed to think this way. And the power of this type of religious formation is so critical to breaking down our fear of death and our wonderful celebration of the physical creation of God! This third finding of the head of St. John was discovered through revelation to a certain priest in the city of  Comana in Cappadocia. It was found in a precious silver vessel and then taken to Constantinople so the people could venerate this holy relic. We can lose our faith but don’t despair. It can be recovered!

Everybody has moments of doubt, but those moments don’t have to permanently sideline your faith. Take a moment to let your doubt pass in light of the power of being Orthodox on Purpose!

P.S. Christ God has revealed to us your truly venerable head as a divine treasure that had been concealed in the earth, O Prophet and Forerunner. Wherefore, as we gather on the feast of its finding, with our hymns inspired of God, we praise Christ the Saviour, Who by your mighty prayers saveth us from every kind of harm.

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