"They will not return in time. You will die without your answer. You will end your life, with the faint murmur ringing in your ears that you failed to do the one thing God gave you to do."
For just a moment, John could imagine a man, as if his thoughts could be embodied in flesh, standing, no…leaning arrogantly against the other side of the bars. Such artfully careless questions fired at him would not come from an uncouth mind, but an educated man.
John imagined stripping away the bars that separated them, dismantling the stone walls of the prison, and seating them both at a table outside a café. The sunshine hidden behind the shade of a tree would warm their bodies and their ears would ring with the drone of crickets in the scorched grass.
"I have my answer."
"Then why send your men with the question?
"That day...even before his baptism…before the dove hovered.."
"You recognised your Messiah? What was it that convinced you, John? Was it a certain look in his eye? Was it the confidence of his stride? Or some glimmering halo that circled his head with a divine glow? Oh yes, there was recognition, John, like a familiar scent, half remembered, not forgotten. It was a cousin you recognised, John, just the familiarity of family…nothing more."
His mother spoke to him when he was younger, filling him with stories of his birth. She told John of how he had leapt within her womb when Mary, Jesus' mother approached. When Jesus approached that day to be baptised, was there not that same leap in his spirit, long before the dove hovered? Recognition went beyond the physical features of family.
"I knew him that day. Knew him as a cousin? Yes. But even now I can remember the pull of my heart. The veil of heaven was pulled aside and I saw not just the man…"
"You wanted it to be him. How simply wonderful for your Messiah to be so humble in his origins! Not this great prince, this warrior that everyone was anticipating, but just a humble carpenter. A gentle, harmless soul, spouting homespun philosophies clothed in stories about everyday life."
"And what have you done to this man? You have given him an impossible task - to be someone that God never intended him to be. What words did you use - he will baptise with fire, not water? The thongs of his sandals that you were unworthy even to untie? You had the ear of the people, John. They listened to you. All you had to do was to point the finger and they shifted their allegiance! They left their homes, John, and for what… to follow your dream? They gave up families, made enemies of their parents, deserted fields and ploughs, nets and fishing boats because you said "The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". Your words will have destroyed so many lives, John."
"The Spirit spoke…not me."
"Oh yes, the Spirit spoke. How convenient! But whose spirit really spoke, John? Does God's Spirit really talk to you? Wasn't it just your spirit? Your need to give purpose to a wasted life?"
In all his life there had been an inner conviction that what he said and did was right. He never mused over the words he spoke. He never tilted them in the light to see what shadows they cast. He never weighed them. They burned like fire in his heart and would have consumed him had he kept quiet. But now…today…imprisoned and with death approaching, the questions tumbled over in his head.
There was a sound that interrupted his inner conversation. It was the sound of people on the steps coming down to his cell. Their talk was stifled by the cold stone but still lively and animated.
"John? We saw him! We saw Jesus! We told him that you had sent us to ask him if he was the one who was to come. He told us to tell you the things we had seen! Such magnificent things, John! It is as Isaiah foretold - the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Scripture is being fulfilled, John."
As they spoke, words cascading from their lips in a torrent of testimony, all of John's questions were answered.
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