“From Deep Within a Prison Cell” takes its inspiration for the first scene of the gospel appointed for this Lord’s Day (Matthew 11:2-11). Stanzas one and two recall the interchange between John and Jesus about Jesus’ identity. The third stanza starkly transposes John’s question to the contemporary world. I hope that worshipers would hear in the anguished cry “What difference would this Jesus make / within a world so broken?” the spiritual state addressed by the Letter of James this weekend (5:7-10). Stanzas four and five raft an honest yet modest act of faith.
I assigned this 87.87.D hymn text to Arthur Sullivan’s CONSTANCE, but it could also be sung to another hymn tune of the same metrical pattern. It is copyrighted by The Jan Michael Joncas Trust and published by Oregon Catholic Press in Within Our Hearts Be Born. The Michael Joncas Hymnary: Advent and Christmas.
From deep within a prison cell
a prophet prayed and pondered
God’s high command, his destiny,
the pathways he had wandered,
until his thoughts to Jesus turned
and on his meaning hovered:
“Are you the One who is to come
or should we seek another?”
The answer Jesus gave to John
evokes his kingdom’s blessings:
“The blind find sight, the deaf gain sound,
and lepers, cleansed, caressing;
the lame leap up, the dead are raised,
the poor proclaimed as brothers —
am I the One who is to come
or should you seek another?”
John’s question haunts our questing hearts,
down centuries still spoken:
What diff’rence does this Jesus make
within a world so broken?
With greed and hate and violence
so easy to discover
is he the One who is to come
or should we seek another?
Though blinded minds refuse God’s light
it shines on through the darkness.
Though deafened hearts resist God’s word
it sounds in holy starkness.
And when we act in faithful hope
God’s future to uncover
we serve the One who is to come;
we do not seek another.
For ev’ry act of suff’ring love
reveals our God in Jesus,
who donned our death that we might live,
who rescues us and frees us.
So help us, help our unbelief,
you, unrelenting Lover:
you are the One who is to come.
How could we seek another?