The Jews of his day recognized that John the Baptist was a special prophet from God. People from every walk of life came to John asking, “What shall we do to be right with God?”
John answered: share your blessings with others, do an honest day’s work, don’t make evil use of your power, treat people fairly. Later, Jesus preached a similar path to salvation: “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty…Whatever you do even to the least of my little ones, you do for me.”
At the end of his life, Herod imprisoned John the Baptist and later had him executed. John realized he did not have long to live, and so from prison John sent two messengers to Jesus asking: “Are you he who is to come, or do we look for someone else?” Mt. 11:3
Fr. John McKenzie, the noted Jesuit scripture scholar, comments on this incident: “It is not at all improbable that John lost some of his assurance with which he had first borne witness to Jesus Christ, and wished to be reassured.”
Perhaps John suffered doubts of faith, as Peter did when he denied Christ three times before his crucifixion. John evidently was experiencing what spiritual writers call “the dark night of the soul.” On the cross, Jesus himself cried out in desperation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mt. 27:46
Feelings of separation and emptiness are by no means incompatible with faith in God. Jesus recognized spiritual value in confronting feelings of desolation and doubt. The dark night of the soul stands not as a sign of weakness, but rather as a sign of human limitation.
In spite of John’s doubts of faith, Jesus gives to John the Baptist one of the most beautiful tributes ever accorded anyone in the Bible. Jesus says of John the Baptist, “He was more than a prophet. He was the messenger of the Messiah. History has not known a man born of woman greater than John the Baptizer.”
When fear and insecurity create dark and disturbing shadows, remember the words of Jesus Christ: “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.” Mk.5