Expectations play a great role in our experience of life. Setting expectations too low can result in a failure to achieve. Setting them too high leads to frustration, disappointment, and confusion.
John the Baptist also seemed to need an adjustment of expectations about Jesus. Faced with imprisonment and the apparent rejection of his message of the kingdom, John’s earlier confidence about Jesus seemed to have waned. “Are you really who I thought you were?” he seemed to ask. If Jesus really was the Messiah, why was he suffering and about to be killed by a corrupt king?
Jesus’ first answer was to point to His miraculous deeds. The blind, lame, deaf, and sick are healed; the dead are raised to life. All of this, Jesus implied, was a fulfillment of the messianic promises of Isaiah 35 and 61 as Jesus inaugurated the kingdom. Second Jesus spoke to His own disciples about John: he was the great prophet who prepared the way for God. John’s preparatory work testified to the identity of Jesus as the Messiah as well.
Other people also had problematic expectations. Our reading makes it clear that many rejected Jesus because He did not act as they expected, as Jesus explains metaphorically: “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance” (v. 17)! Their lack of repentance would be met with judgment. In the end, the kingdom was not for the so-called “wise and learned” (v. 25), but for those who would simply come to Jesus with their burdens and find rest in the one “gentle and humble in heart” (v. 29). Our expectations about Jesus may need to be adjusted (pain and rejection may continue in our lives for a time), but ultimately He remains the promised Messiah who cares for the lowly and draws them into relationship with the Father.