Judging John the Baptist

Luke 7:24-30
Isa 54:1-10 / Psa30

…among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
(Luke 7:28)

We may be the least in God’s kingdom,
But if we are faithful to His Word
He will grant us the grace of wisdom,
So that with all men be in accord.

After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are found in palaces. But what 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: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law who had not been baptized by John rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) (Luke 7:24-30)

Reflection

Jesus praised St. John the Baptist in the hearing of His followers, but only after the latter’s disciples had left, to avoid sounding like He was flattering him. Quoting the prophet Malachi (Mal.3:1), our Lord affirmed St. John’s role as God’s prophet and harbinger who would “prepare the way” before Him. But after saying “among those born of women there is no one greater than John,” our Lord added this puzzle: “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” What did He mean by that statement?

Today’s account of Luke is the continuation of yesterday’s Gospel passage (Luke 7:18b-23), where we pointed out that St. John seemed to be wavering, and so sent his two disciples to Jesus to confirm if He was really the Messiah. His message was repeated by his messengers in the hearing of the crowd, so John’s doubts must have made him appear like a reed being swayed by the winds of uncertainty, since some people had heard him refer to Jesus earlier as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus had to disabuse the crowd’s misconception of the Baptizer’s character by asking them three times: “What did you go out to see?” Clearly they saw an austere, weather-beaten man who was humble and pure of heart, who fearlessly stood by his principles even at the prospect of imprisonment and death. A pliant reed he certainly was not. But exalted as his position was as the last and greatest prophet of the Old Testament, he was not as privileged as the “least in the kingdom of God” who followed Jesus and were nourished by His Word. We may be the least in His kingdom, but the words of wisdom that Jesus has imparted to us in the Bible make us “greater” (more fortunate, actually) than St. John the Baptist, whose mission was short-lived, was unfairly incarcerated, and killed without mercy. We are not suffering persecution for our faith (as he did), and yet we now enjoy the abundant blessings of a loving Father as long as we are obedient to all His decrees.

We thank You, Almighty God, for the example of St. John the Baptist, whose life has been an inspiration to all the saints and martyrs who followed after him. May we be as bold in standing firm for the truth, and never compromise our principles in life, especially the values that our Lord Jesus has taught us. Amen.

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