Gospel according to Matthew (11:2-11)
WHEN JOHN the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
The relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist was not always been crystal-clear; at times, it was even tenuous—no thanks to the zeal of their early followers. There were tensions and competition among these disciples. At one time, John was told about Jesus, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him” (Jn 326). We can sense a tinge of envy among Jesus’ disciples when one of them asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:2). At the start of the preaching of the Gospel, Paul encountered in Ephesus people “baptized with the baptism of John,” who might have believed that John was the Messiah. Paul had to tell them, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus” (Acts 19:3-4).
The writers of the New Testament, who wrote years after Jesus’ actual public ministry, would follow the line of St. Paul, that is, put Jesus and John in their proper places: Jesus is the Messiah, and John is the forerunner. In Luke, Zechariah prophesies of his son, “You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way” (Lk 1:76). In Matthew, John is reluctant to baptize Jesus, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Mt 3:14). And in John, those who asked if the Baptist might be the Messiah was met by the following reply: “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1:26).
The Gospel today presents John in prison. His audacity to condemn the illicit union of Herod Antipas and Herodias landed the Baptist in chains. While incarcerated, John has some questions about Jesus. If Jesus is the Messiah indeed, where are the signs of the righteous anger toward the impious? Where is the ax of the Messiah that cuts the roots of evil men?
Where is his fire that burns people who are like useless chaff? Maybe John is waiting for the Messiah to bolt him out of Herod’s prison. Can Jesus indeed be the Messiah?
Jesus does not respond with a kind of self-presentation as the Messiah. He does not say, “Yes, I am the one who is to come; you should not look for another.” Jesus prefers to speak indirectly of what is happening before the eyes of all: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, leper are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. What happens is thoroughly “messianic,” and for those who understand, Jesus indeed is the Messiah.
John’s doubt in no way diminishes his glory. Jesus himself pays John the highest honor: “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.” John is the last of the prophets, bridging the time of promise and the time of fulfillment. The disciples, then, are “greater” than he because they are witnesses of Jesus, in whom the kairos or the “acceptable time” of the Lord has come.
Today is “Gaudete Sunday,” Sunday of Rejoicing. This year it precedes our tradition of Simbang Gabi, emphasizing the joy and excitement that comes with the nearing of Christmas. Still, we cannot totally dispel the gloom that hovers over our personal lives and our life as a nation. Where are the Christian values that we hold dear? Will Christmas come and go without making a dent in our lives—for the better?
We hold on to Jesus, “that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).
Here it is good to bear in mind the words of Pope Francis, “Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes,’ but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (Gaudete et Exsultate, no. 125).
— Fr. Gil Alinsangan, SSP