The Epic Letdown of John the Baptist
In Luke, Jesus begins his ministry after his baptism and temptation not by selecting disciples (as in the other gospel narratives), but by entering the synagogue in Nazareth. The scroll of Isaiah is handed to him and Jesus reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I like to envision John the Baptist (JtB) at the synagogue that day hearing the echoes of Isaiah and the messianic interpretations of it in Jesus’ sermon.
Interestingly, in Luke, JtB is only mentioned a couple of times after this sermon. In chapter 9 where some are saying he has risen from the dead, and in chapter 7 where he summons some disciples to him. The whole Herod, Herodias, Salome affair is not mentioned in Luke, so in chapter 7 I like to envision JtB in Jail:
18 , The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Lk 7:18–19.
Jesus’ answer to them after first healing many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits and restoring sight to the blind
Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Lk 7:22–23.
Then John’s messenger’s leave and Jesus goes on with a mini-sermon. I like to picture John’s disciples returning to him in prison to report back to him what Jesus said:
John: Did you see Jesus?
Disciple 1: Yes
John: And what did he say?
Disciple 2:Well, he quoted Isaiah to us
John: Yes! Did he say the part about ‘release to the captives’?
Disciple 2: (looking around awkwardly avoiding eye contact) Well first he healed people…
Disciple 1: Yeah, it was awesome, casting out demons and stuff
John: OK, but what about Isaiah?
Disciple 2: Well first he said to tell you what we see: the blind receive their sight
Disciple 1: the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.
John: Yes, but did he say anything about the oppressed going free?
Disciple 2: Well, this is awkward…
Disciple 1: *sigh* Sorry master, but, um, he didn’t say anything about, you know, release to prisoners or, uh, the oppressed going free
John: But at Nazareth he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Are you sure he didn’t say anything about that. I’m kind of in prison here. You know I was sort of counting on him…
Disciple 1: No
John: Well did he say anything else?
Disciple 2: Nah. Not really. It’s not important.
John: No, what else did he say?
(disciples share a quick glance)
John: What else did he say?
Disciple 2: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
I’m willing to bet at that moment JtB might have been offended!