“The redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.” – Saint Pope John Paul II, Redemptor hominis
Matthew 11:2-11: Now John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and, happy is the man who does not lose faith in me’. As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom Scripture says: Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way before you. I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’
Christ the Lord John was in prison because he vociferously denounced King Herod for licentious behavior and public scandal. (On a trip to Rome, Herod had seduced his brother’s wife, and when he returned to Palestine he dismissed his own wife and married that sister-in-law.) Perhaps during his cruel imprisonment, John began to have difficulties about Jesus, whom he had earlier pointed out as the “Lamb of God,” another title for the long-awaited Messiah. More likely, John’s disciples still doubted what John was telling them of Jesus and were reluctant to leave John in order to follow Christ. So John sends them to Christ himself, in order to resolve all doubts. Jesus’ response does not disappoint. He doesn’t just say, “Oh yes, I am the Messiah,” which could so easily be construed as the kind of empty claim typical of any vain public figure. Rather, he points to his irrefutable deeds, and applies the Messianic prophecies to them (cf. Isaiah 35:5, 61:1). No matter what others may say of him, Christ himself claims to be nothing less than the very Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah.
Christ the Teacher Christ makes a curious statement at the end of this encounter. He begins a rhetorical buildup of praise for John, only to conclude it with a paradoxical reverse: John is the greatest of prophets, but the humblest of Jesus’ followers is greater than John. Jesus Christ wants his listeners to realize that his Kingdom differs from all others not only in degree but in essence. He has brought to mankind not just a better earthly life, but something entirely new: a share in the very life of God. Saints aren’t just especially good and nice people; they are new creations. They defy usual categories, and they turn the standards of this world upside down. When we first begin to follow Christ, and all along our journey to sainthood, we have to jettison our own expectations and make room for a supernatural revolution that begins with our baptismal commitment to holiness and apostolate.
Christ the Friend Friends accept us as we are, but encourage us to change for the better. Christ came among sinners, but he did so in order to save them. He met the blind and gave them sight; the poor and gave them hope; the lame and gave them strength. He is still a friend like that to each one of us: we are blinded by ignorance and selfishness, and he offers us light in the teachings of his Church; we are poor in virtue and generosity, and he fills us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit; we are lame, unable to pray as we ought, to bear witness as we ought, to love as we ought, and he heals us and strengthens by feeding us with bread from heaven, nourishing us with his very self in the Eucharist. He is always encouraging us to grow, because he loves us too much to leave us the way we are.
Christ in My Life I thank you, Lord, for the example given by these disciples of John the Baptist. They had doubts, they didn’t understand your plans, and so they came to you to find the answers. I always want to do the same. I have had times of doubt and difficulty, and you have always been faithful. I want to stay close to you always, no matter what. Guide my steps, Jesus; I trust in you…
The standard by which I should evaluate my life is yours, not the world’s. You are truth itself. You are my Lord and Teacher. Cleanse my mind from false and selfish ideas. Open my eyes to see myself and those around me as you do…
Thank you for your many gifts. You are always watching over me. I have no need to fret or worry; all I need to do is seek your will. Teach me to trust in you more and more, and give me the courage to be as generous with others as you have been with me…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on Matthew 11:2-11: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, circa 1490, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.