Though Luke has mentioned earlier in his Gospel (3:20) that John was in prison, there is nothing to suggest that he is still in prison when he asks the question about Jesus’ identity. Here, the question is asked after John receives a report from two of his disciples about the things that Jesus was doing. Thus, a number of explanations have been offered as to why John asked this question of Jesus. One reason is that John, after hearing the report from his disciples, was troubled by uncertainty. If he was still in prison (as Matthew clearly states he was when he sent his disciples to ask the question) then this uncertainty would have been greater. Another reason is that John expected the Messiah to come with spewing fire and venom, but Jesus was reaching out to people in unconditional love. This surprised John since Jesus was not the kind of Messiah he had expected. Another reason is that John, though not sure, was hopeful that The Messiah, whose coming he had announced, had indeed come in Jesus and that would vindicate his own proclamation. Or, John thought that, by asking such a question of Jesus, he could encourage him to make a public announcement so that all would know that the Messianic age had arrived.
The disciples sent by John repeat the question of John to Jesus. In his response to them, who had probably seen, just then, the healings performed by him, Jesus lists six prophetic actions. These actions are works which both Elijah and Elisha had accomplished, as well as others mentioned in the book of Isaiah. Jesus was not merely a prophet, like Elijah or Elisha; he was the fulfillment of all the prophets. Besides healing those in need of it, the poor were also promised redemption through the preaching of Jesus. Jesus’ answer ends with a challenge not to have a stereotypical view of him or a preconceived notion that will prevent one from encountering Jesus as he is. A blessing is pronounced on those who will not reject him even though he turns out to be different from what they expected, imagined, or hoped he would be.
Jesus cannot be captured in an image, or picture, or put in a box. He remains bigger than anything we can ever imagine. Thus, what is required if one is to encounter him is to get rid of any categories that we may have used to define him. Jesus fits no specific category and yet, belongs to all of them. We sometimes think we know who Jesus is, what he stands for, and what he is doing, and then he surprises us and does something quite contrary to our expectations. Many scholars and holy men and women have proposed first one understanding of who Jesus is, and then another. They are all correct and all incorrect. Thus, the best response to Jesus is to be constantly open to whatever revelation he decides to make and to keep our whole being open in the hope that we will encounter him.
It is only important for us to constantly realize that God has acted in Jesus, and has been revealed as a God of the poor, a God who wants all people to be whole, a God who reaches out to the lame, the blind, the deaf, the mute, and the scum of society. God reaches out to tell them that they are loved and honoured because they, too, are created in the image and likeness of God. The ones who accept this Jesus, will also accept that the mission he inaugurated is now their own, and they are called to join him in continuing it as he would have done.