Who Is Greater Than John the Baptist?
'I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he'(Luke 7:28; cf. Matt. 11:11)
With minor variations, this saying is reproduced by both Matthew and Luke in the same context. Matthew's wording is slightly fuller and, as usual, he has 'kingdom of heaven' where his parallel has 'kingdom of God'. (The two expressions are completely synonymous; then as now there were some who used 'heaven' as a substitute for the name of God.)
The saying is paradoxical: if John was not surpassed in greatness by any human being, how could anyone be greater than he? The paradox was certainly deliberate: we may wonder if any of Jesus' hearers grasped the point more readily than we do today.
In both Gospels the saying comes in the sequel to the account of the deputation of disciples which John, who was then imprisoned by Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, sent to Jesus. In his preaching in the lower Jordan valley John had called on his hearers to amend their ways in preparation for the Coming One, who would carry out a judgment symbolized by wind and fire (Luke 3:17; Matt. 3:12; see p. 123). Judgment involved the separation of the good from the worthless, the wheat from the chaff. The chaff, blown away by the wind, would be swept up and thrown into the fire.
After the baptism of Jesus, John recognized him as the Coming One of whom he spoke, but now he was not so sure. Jesus had begun his own ministry, but from the reports of it which reached John in prison, it bore little resemblance to the ministry of judgment which John had foretold for the Coming One. Hence he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 'Are you the Coming One, or must we look for someone else?'
Jesus might have told the messengers to go back and say to John that the answer to his question was, 'Yes, I am the Coming One; there is no need to look for anyone else.' But that would not have been very satisfactory. John might have said, 'Ah! but he might be mistaken himself.' Instead, Jesus kept the messengers with him for some time, and they heard and saw what was actually happening in his ministry. Then, when he judged that they had heard and seen enough for his purpose, he sent them back to tell John all about it - how the blind had their sight restored, the lame were walking, the deaf were enabled to hear and so forth, and how the good news was being proclaimed to the poor. Tell him this too,' he added: 'Blessed is the man who does not feel that I have let him down' (Matt. 1.11:2-6; Luke 7:19-23).
Jesus knew what John would make of his disciples' report. |Jesus was doing the very things which, according to the prophets, would mark the inbreaking of the new age: 'Then the BS of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf Unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy' (Isa. 35:5-6). Above all, he was actively fulfilling, and indeed embodying, the prophetic word which said, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor ...' 61:1). This should convince John that Jesus was indeed the Coming One: John had not been mistaken about him and not feel that Jesus was letting him down by not doing the kind of thing John had said he would do. When the messengers had departed, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John in terms of unqualified commendation. John was nobody's yes-man, no weather-vane; he stood foursquare to every wind that blew and declared the message of God without fear or favor, to peasant and prince. And when Jesus asked them if they went out to the wilderness to see 'a man clothed in soft raiment', they must have laughed, as they remembered John's rough coat of camel's hair. No, said Jesus, for people who wear fine clothes and eat more luxurious food than John's diet of locusts and wild honey you have to go to royal courts - and John was not at the royal court but in the royal jail. John was a prophet, as most people thought; yes, said Jesus, and more than a prophet; he was God's special messenger sent to prepare his way, foretold in Malachi 3:1; he was, in fact, unsurpassed by any other. 'Among those born of women none is greater than John.' John spoke of the Coming One as 'he who is mightier than I', but here is the Coming One, himself born of a woman, paying a remarkable tribute to John. Then why did he add, 'yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he'?
I think we can ignore the suggestion that 'the least in the kingdom of God' was a reference to Jesus himself. 'The least in the kingdom of God' is the most insignificant person who enjoys the blessings of the new age of salvation which Jesus was bringing in. John was like Moses, who viewed the promised land from the top of Mount Pisgah, but did not enter it; he was the last of the heroes of Hebrews 11 who, 'though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised'. It is not in moral stature or devotion or service, but in privilege, that those who are least in the kingdom of God are greater than John -greater not for what they do for God (in this John was unsurpassed) but for what God does for them. On another occasion Jesus congratulated his disciples because they lived to see and hear what many prophets and kings had longed in vain to see and hear (Luke 10:23-24). It was not because of any superior merit of theirs that the disciples enjoyed these blessings: it was because they lived at the time when Jesus came and were called by him to share the life and service of the kingdom of God. Even to be his herald and forerunner, as John was, was not such a great privilege as to participate in the ministry of the Coming One, to be heirs of the kingdom which John, as the last of the prophets of old, foresaw and foretold.
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"It would be better to have ten (10) true repentant X-felons who ask for and give true forgiveness than it would be to have one (1) non-x-felon or common person whose self-righteousness exceeds even the Pharisees, Sadducees, the gossip mongers, slanderers and un-repentant; for the repentant x-felon understands the true meaning of the Church's purpose as being the spiritual hospital." (siq) +Joseph Thaddeus, OSB, SSJt., Ph.D., Metropolitan Archbishop, Archabbot, Primate
Yes... "Prejudice Makes Prisoners of the Hated and the Hater..." (1992-Fr. Alan Stanford)
One can ask, "What part of 'Prejudice' and 'hate' do you not understand? Are you a complacent person? In light of the saying, examine yourself! You may be surprised if you are honest with yourself for your soul may convict you before Jesus Christ convicts you in the times to come!
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