Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Herod’s Perplexity

“Herod’s Perplexity”
Luke 9:7-9 in a couplet
Thursday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Related post: Herod’s Distress
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, “John has been raised from the dead”; others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”; still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.” But Herod said, “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see him.

Luke 9:7-9

Holy Women Who Followed Jesus

“Holy Women Who Followed Jesus”
A reflection on Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 11:16-19, Luke 7:31-35
Friday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: Holy Women, Heavenly Pipers
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 8:1-3

“To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Matthew 11:16-19

“Then to what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.

For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Luke 7:31-35

The Greek pronunciations of the following words create the rhythm and rhyme of the couplet:

María: mar-ee’-ah
Joánna/Ioánna: ee-o-ahn’-nah
Susánna: soo-sahn’-nah
daimónia: dahee-mon’-ee-a

Daimonia means “evil spirits” or “demons.” In the context of the passage, it also refers to infirmities of every kind.

The holy men and women who follow Jesus “dance” to the tune of his piping, like stars synchronized with the pole star.

“Jesus is the Pole Star of human freedom.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 10 February 2006

Jesus Mourns the Death of John the Baptist

“Jesus mourns the death of John the Baptist”
Matthew 14:13 in a couplet
Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: 17 Ordinary Time Saturday, Beatitudes, Day 2, 17 Ordinary Time Sunday
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.

Matthew 14:13

John the Baptist was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness (eremós)” (Mark 1:3; Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4). At the news of his death, Jesus withdrew to a “deserted place (erēmon topon),” by himself (Matthew 14:13).

In the Bible, the desert (or wilderness) is a place of encounter with God and truth. The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert (eremós) to be tempted by the devil (Mark 1:12; Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1).

Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh with the request: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Let my people go, that they may hold a feast for me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1). 

The children of Israel never imagined that they would wander in the desert for forty years! The long years of nomadic trial, temptation, and trust in the Lord for daily bread were designed to attune ears to the voice of God. Away from the hustle and bustle of Egyptian cities, God called his people to himself in the wilderness.

The Hebrew word for wilderness (midbar) is translated as eremós in the Greek Septuagint. The biblical concept of the wilderness (midbar) is derived from the noun dabar (speech, word) and the verb dabar (to speak). 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the “word of the Lord” visits patriarchs and prophets with divine guidance and directives (e.g., Genesis 15:1, 4; I Samuel 15:10; 2 Samuel 7:4; 24:11; Jeremiah 1:4). The “Ten Commandments” are the “ten words” given to Moses in the wilderness of Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:13; Hebrew).

In Matthew’s version of the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd followed Jesus into the wilderness and received an abundant feast from five loaves and two fish. As the Father fed the Israelites in the desert with “bread from heaven” (manna) and the word of the Lord (the five books of the Pentateuch and the two tablets of the law) through his servant Moses, he fed them with his own Son, the Word made flesh and “true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). 

When the Word of the Lord fills our being, we become a desert oasis for our God.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.

Hosea 2:14 (RSV; Hosea 2:16 in NABRE)

The Birth of John the Baptist

From his birth which we celebrate today,  John the Baptist was destined for the desert, to be solely in God’s hands, who readied him to welcome the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

It may have changed, but there’s an interesting Sunday walk in Rome I’d recommend.  Go out the city gate at the Porta di San Sebastiano and walk south along one of the oldest roads in the world, the Via Appia, to the catacombs and church of San Sebastiano. Outside the city gates, you’re in what the ancient Romans called the “limes,” the limits, the world beyond the city, a different world altogether.

To the ancient Romans the “limes”  meant the end of civilized, reasonable life. No place to live, they thought. Get where you’re going as soon as you can. “Speed limit” comes from the word. Go beyond the limit and you can lose your life.

Few people are usually on that road, deserted fields all around. The only sound  you can hear is the sound of your own breathing and your footsteps.

The last line of St. Luke’s gospel for today’s feast says of John:

“The child grew and become strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

How did John become strong in a desert? Centuries before, God led the Jews from Egypt into the desert. With no map or provisions they went into a world unknown. Yet they were in the hands of God, who became their strength.

Most of us stay within our limits; we don’t go to live in physical deserts. Yet, try as we may to avoid them, we face them anyway in things we didn’t expect, like sickness, or death, or separation, or divorce, or the loss of a job, or lost friends or lost places we know and love. The desert’s never far from any of us.

The Via Appia brings you to the catacombs, the great underground tunnels where the early Christians buried their dead. They  buried them there, I think,  not to hide them, but because this place was an image of a new unknown world.  The “limes,”  marked the end of this life and foreshadowed a new life. The dead no longer belonged in the city; they were going to  a new city.

Life holds its doubts, fears, uncertainty. But we don’t face limits alone. In the “limes” God alone has you in his hands. God gives you strength and brings you where you’re meant to be. God is there.  God is there.

Readings for the Feast: http://www.usccb.org

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Lamps in the Light

Fourth Week of Lent, Thursday

Exodus 32:7-14; John 5:31-47 

He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me… For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me.

John 5:35-36, 46

The children of Moshe Rabbeinu (“Moses our Teacher”) had difficulty accepting the Messianic claim of Jesus of Nazareth. Wonders and signs failed to convince; teachings in the synagogue alienated. Mysterious references to his invisible, inaudible Father “who testified on my behalf” eluded not only his adversaries but even his friends (John 5:37; 14:9).

The tablets of the Ten Commandments were akin to the tree of life for Israel, guarded in the ark of the covenant by two cherubim as at the gates of Eden (Exodus 25:18-22). The word of God, living and active, fed the Israelites in the desert of exile as refreshing, spiritual drink. Yet Jesus called into question the confidence of those who prided themselves as faithful keepers of the law shaped by the divine word.

…and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.

John 5:38

Jesus’ lamentation was devastating, for to be void of the word of God meant death and destruction.

You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

The first statement may also be read as an imperative: “Search the scriptures, because you think that you have eternal life through them.”1 Moving from the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) to the man, Jesus, required a gigantic leap of faith. 

The awe-inspiring, wholly transcendent God of Mount Sinai spoke to Moses “face to face” from between the two cherubim over the ark in the tent of meeting (Numbers 7:89). The ark represented the ultimate manifestation of God’s physical presence on earth (shekinah). For a man to claim to be God in the flesh was the height of blasphemy.

Jesus, a Jew among Jews, understood the trauma and dissonance surrounding his person and work. Thus he appealed to the testimony of John the Baptist, his Forerunner, and especially to Moses, Israel’s foundational teacher and lawgiver. The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus at the Transfiguration ratified his status as the true Messiah and Son of God.

The following poem is a reflection on Jesus’ appeal to his witnesses in John 5:31-47.

The lamp of the law given to Moses2 
Illumined prophets, priests and kings.
Pharaoh’s rival esteemed Christ’s reproaches
More than Egyptian glitterings.3

Elijah’s word burned like a blazing torch, 
Calling fire down from the heavens.4 
John prepared the way for the fan to scorch,5 
The Lamb’s lamp waking to penance.6

Dim was the lamp in the Light of the Word
Born in the beginning with God.7 
Hearts filled with the word recognize the Word,
Acknowledging the love of God.8

He who has seen me has seen the Father9 
Though his form is invisible.10 
Alone I am not, but from my Father—
His charaktér made visible.11

Moses, Elijah and I are aflame—
Lamps in the triple Light of God.12 
The Torah and Prophets proclaim
That I AM WHO I AM, your God.

-GMC

1 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to John 5:39

2 Psalm 119:105.

3 Hebrews 11:26.

4 Sirach 48:1, 3.

5 Luke 3:17.

6 John 1:29; 5:35.

7 John 1:6-9; 1:1-2.

8 Inverse of John 5:38, 42.

9 John 14:9.

10 John 5:37; 1:18; 6:46.

11 Charaktér from Hebrews 1:3: image, stamp, or imprint. Click phonetics for the pronunciation of charaktér.

12 Transfiguration of Jesus: Mark 9:1-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36. Triple Light refers to the epiphany of the Holy Trinity.

The Mass Readings after Epiphany

DSC00036

The gospel readings at Mass for the week after the Feast of the Epiphany are connected to that great feast.

The Magi seeking the King of the Jews represent the nations, the Gentiles, who seek Jesus as their Savior. In our readings for Monday Jesus begins his public ministry after his baptism by John, going to Galilee. “The Galilee of the Gentiles,” Matthew’s gospel calls it. He brings light “to a people who sit in darkness.” (Matthew 4,12-17,24-25) In Galilee Jesus fulfills the promise made to the Magi.

He repeats the words John used to define his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus goes beyond John (Saturday, John 3,22-3); he calls a Gentile world as well as a Jewish world to turn to God, for the kingdom of God at hand.

Humanly speaking, it wasn’t a good time to begin such a mission. It’s “after John was arrested,” a dangerous time. Galilee, when Jesus began his mission, was ruled by Herod Antipas, who imprisoned John and then beheaded him. (Matthew 4, 12-25)

But God’s time is not our time. It probably wasn’t a good time either for the Magi to come to Bethlehem, in the days of Herod the Great. But God’s ways are not our ways. We can miss grace and its opportunities when we think of time in too human a way.

Accounts of the miracle of the loaves and the crossing of the Sea of Galilee from Mark’s gospel are read on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Commentators note that in Mark’s gospel the Sea of Galilee is a stormy path Jesus takes to reach the Gentile world of his day. The other side of the lake, the western side, was predominantly a Gentile area. They are given the same Bread he provides for the children of Israel.

It’s to “all of Galilee” that Jesus goes and “as a consequence of this his reputation traveled the length of Syria. They carried to him all those afflicted with various diseases and racked with pain: the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed. He cured them all.” (Matthew 4, 23-25)

Galilee is the “Galilee of the Gentiles,” where Jesus would bring good news to both Jew and Gentile.

December 19: Zechariah in the Temple

The priest Zachariah goes into the temple bearing incense to worship the Lord , “In the days of King Herod”. An angel appears next to the altar of incense and says to him. “Your prayer has been heard,..Your wife will bear you a son.”

Surely, the old priest was no longer praying for a son. Childbearing was over for his wife and himself. The promise of new life was long gone; there’s no hope for a child.

But the angel promises a child “great in the eyes of the Lord” to be called John, who will more than fulfill their hopes, turning “many of the children of Israel to their God.”

The old priest doubts and is punished with silence. He won’t speak until after the child is born. Then he speaks again,  as he announces to those at his birth that “his name is John.”

You lose your voice when you lose hope in God’s promises. You get it back when you believe. When John is born, Zechariah sings a song of praise at God’s unexpected  gift.

The Communion Prayer for today’s Mass says: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come.”

Never doubt the gifts God wants to give, Zechariah tells us. Doubt silences us. God’s gifts give us a voice.

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

Readings here.

The Scandal of the Incarnation

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Isaiah 45:6b-8, 18, 21c-25; Luke 7:18b-23 (Matthew 11:2-6)

At that time Jesus cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits; he also granted sight to many who were blind. And Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Luke 7:21-23

Jesus sent the disciples of John the Baptist back with a report of signs and wonders lifted from the pages of Isaiah happening in their own day and age (Isaiah 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 61:1). Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God equal to the Father eventually became a “stumbling block,” offense, and scandal to many. The signs and wonders were an aid for those who could not accept the mystery of God becoming a man: “If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize [and understand] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38).1

For a man to claim to be God amounted to blasphemy. Who but the invisible, untouchable, formless God can say, “I am the Lord, there is no other. I form the light, and create the darkness, I make weal and create woe; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7)? The God of the burning bush, Mount Sinai, and the Temple in Jerusalem can say, “To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear, saying, ‘Only in the Lord are just deeds and power’” (Isaiah 45:23-24). But Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary? 

-GMC

1 St. Cyril of Alexandria writes in his Commentary on Luke, Homily 37:

“And blessed is he who is not offended in me!” The Jews were indeed offended, either as not knowing the depth of the mystery or because they did not seek to know the mystery. Every part of the inspired Scripture announced beforehand that the Word of God would humble himself to emptiness and be seen on earth… Although they plainly saw him clothed with unspeakable dignity and surpassing glory, by means of the wondrous deeds he performed, they threw stones at him and said, “Why do you, being a man, make yourself God?” In answer to these things Christ rebuked the immeasurable infirmity of their intellect and said, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, then though you believe not me, believe my works.” Blessed is he who does not stumble against Christ, that is, he who believes him.

From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, Arthur A. Just Jr., editor, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 121.

What is Faith?

Icon of the Crucifixion

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Luke 7:18b-23 (Matthew 11:2-6)

At that time, John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” When the men came to the Lord, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”

Luke 7:18-20

Was the Forerunner expressing a doubt about Jesus’ identity? The question from John’s prison cell has vexed interpreters since the time of the early Church and responses have fallen on both sides.

If the question did not arise from real doubt in the Baptist, interpreters have inclined to consider it a “fictive doubt.”1 The question becomes a means of strengthening the faith of  John’s disciples in Jesus, “the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27). St. Jerome appeals to the episode of the raising of Lazarus in which Jesus asked, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34) to support this thesis. As Jesus did not inquire with a doubting heart, neither did the Baptist, Jerome argues.2

The most common interpretation in modern times is to recognize “John’s real doubt, hesitation, or surprise that Jesus was not turning out to be the kind of messiah that he expected.”3 Among the Church Fathers, Tertullian alone attributed real doubt to the Baptist, explaining that the Holy Spirit had only gifted him with partial knowledge for the purpose of preparing the way of the Lord.4

Both groups of interpreters have one thing in common: the desire to portray genuine faith. The majority of patristic commentators and their followers, minus Tertullian, found any hint of wavering faith in the Baptist inconsistent with the iconic image of the heroic saint and prophet. Can doubt enter the mind of one who earlier declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)? And further, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34). The underlying assumption is that doubt and despondency have no place in the heroic journey of faith. 

Critics of this view find the opposite to be more authentic:

Scripture never presents the saints as ideally faultless, and therefore with holy truthfulness never conceals any sign of their imperfection or weakness. Nothing is more natural than that the Great Baptist—to whom had been granted but a partial revelation—should have felt deep anguish at the calm and noiseless advance of a Kingdom for which, in his theocratic and Messianic hopes, he had imagined a very different proclamation. Doubtless too his faith like that of Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), of Job in his trials (Job 3:1), and of Jeremiah in prison (Jeremiah 20:7), might be for a moment drowned by the tragic briefness, and disastrous eclipse of his own career; and he might hope to alleviate by this message the anguish which he felt when he contrasted the joyous brightness of our Lord’s Galilean ministry with the unalleviated gloom of his own fortress-prison among the black rocks at Makor. ‘If Jesus be indeed the promised Messiah,’ he may have thought, ‘why am I, His Forerunner, suffered to languish undelivered,—the victim of a wicked tyrant?’ The Baptist was but one of those many glorious saints whose careers God, in His mysterious Providence, has suffered to end in disaster and eclipse that He may shew us how small is the importance which we must attach to the judgment of men, or the rewards of earth. “We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour: how is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!” Wis 5:20. We may be quite sure that “in the fiery furnace God walked with His servant so that his spirit was not harmed, and having thus annealed his nature to the utmost that this earth can do, He took him hastily away and placed him among the glorified in Heaven.”5

The bare text of Scripture rarely supplies insight into the subjectivity from which statements and questions arise. Did the imprisoned John calmly face his execution and send his disciples to Jesus in order to transition them to the one “who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (John 1:30)? Or did he languish in the darkness and silence of his dungeon wondering, “Where were the axe and fan and the holy wind and fire of judgment?”6

In the end, the full subjectivity of other persons is inaccessible to all except the divine mind. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, not even the angels can read other minds, for “what is proper to God does not belong to the angels.”7

Whatever was John’s state of mind in Herod’s prison, Jesus commended him as the greatest of the prophets born of women, a passage which immediately follows his response to the Baptist’s question. “Yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he,” Jesus continued, indicating an order of grace and glory far surpassing anything attainable in this world (Luke 7:28).8

Jesus also paired himself with John in the figure of children in the marketplace calling out, “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep” (Luke 7:32). John and Jesus both died unjustly, the Precursor paving the way for the Christ who ultimately conquered sin and death. 

The variety of interpretations of John’s question from prison leads to a topic deeper than exegetical conclusions, namely, what is faith? Does faith mean never doubting, faltering, or wavering for a moment? Does it mean that moments of special grace cannot be followed by moments of intense darkness?

Scripture does not flinch from portraying real struggles with faith. Peter, James, and John ran away from Gethsemane after witnessing the glory of the Transfiguration (Mark 14:50). Peter, the recipient of the Father’s direct enlightenment concerning Jesus’ true identity (Matthew 16:16), denied Jesus three times. Mary Magdalene failed to recognize the “gardener” at the empty tomb (John 20:15). Thomas disbelieved the testimony of the other disciples about the risen Christ (John 20:25). 

The strongest proof of the vulnerability of human nature in the face of trial and tribulation is the life of Jesus himself who cried out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

If the Son of God himself felt abandoned by the Father in his humanity though he was inseparable from the Godhead, the weakness of passible human nature is revealed. Christ’s sinlessness did not shield him from the depths of human suffering and sorrow. Immaculate Mary, whose heart was “pierced” by a sword, shared in her Son’s suffering (Luke 2:35). 

In these supreme examples of union with the Father’s will during the darkest hour in history, it is possible to admit that the journey of faith can have moments of testing even to the point of feeling forsaken. The God-man Jesus Christ conquered his own desire to avoid the Cross with the resolve, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:39). 

Faith does not doubt the objective and fundamental goodness of God in the midst of trial. “I AM WHO AM” burns with an unquenchable fire of Love at the heart of all existence, even if no creature exists to experience it. Christ who lives in us always leads us to the Father in the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Feelings of abandonment may come, but the will remains rooted in the Father’s unchanging love. 

-GMC

1 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX), Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1981, p. 664:

John’s question has been interpreted by commentators from the patristic period on (at least to the Reformation) as a fictive doubt: The imprisoned John used this device to strengthen and improve the understanding of his own disciples about Jesus. So, e.g. John Chrysostom (Hom. xxxvi in Matt. 11:2; PG, 57, 413-415); Augustine (Sermones de scripturis 66.3-4; PL 38. 432-433); Hilary (Comm. in Matt. 11:2; PL, 9, 978-979).

The Pulpit Commentary’s more comprehensive list of interpreters in this vein also includes Jerome, Ambrose and Theophylact among the Fathers, and Calvin, Beza, Melancthon, Stier and Bishop Wordsworth among the Protestants. 

2 St. Jerome on Matthew 11:3 in The Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas.

3 Fitzmyer, p. 664. The New American Bible (Revised Edition) also supports this view. See footnotes to Matthew 11:2-6.

4 Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book IV, chapter 18: 

But John is offended when he hears of the miracles of Christ, as of an alien god. Well, I on my side will first explain the reason of his offense, that I may the more easily explode the scandal of our heretic. Now, that the very Lord Himself of all might, the Word and Spirit of the Father, was operating and preaching on earth, it was necessary that the portion of the Holy Spirit which, in the form of the prophetic gift, had been through John preparing the ways of the Lord, should now depart from John, and return back again of course to the Lord, as to its all-embracing original. Therefore John, being now an ordinary person, and only one of the many, was offended indeed as a man, but not because he expected or thought of another Christ as teaching or doing nothing new, for he was not even expecting such a one. Nobody will entertain doubts about any one whom (since he knows him not to exist) he has no expectation or thought of. Now John was quite sure that there was no other God but the Creator, even as a Jew, especially as a prophet. Whatever doubt he felt was evidently rather entertained about Him whom he knew indeed to exist but knew not whether He were the very Christ.

5 Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Luke 7:19.

6 Expositor’s Greek Testament, Matthew 11:3.

7 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 57, 4.

8 St. Ambrose writes in his Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 5.110:

If Christ is a prophet, then how is John greater than all prophets? Surely we do not deny that Christ is a prophet? On the contrary, I maintain both that the Lord is the Prophet of prophets and that John is greater than all, but of those born of a woman, not of a virgin. He was greater than those to whom he could be equal in the condition of birth. Another nature is not to be compared with human generations. There can be no comparison between man and God, for each is preferred to his own. There could be no comparison of John with the Son of God, so that he is thought to be below the angels.

From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, Arthur A. Just Jr., editor, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 122.

A Voice That Passes Away

Spring Lake even

John the Baptist is a voice that passes away, according to St. Augustine:  “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.”

John’s “voice” passes away. He no longer baptizes at the Jordan River. He cedes to the Word, and so should we. Our voice passes away; something of ourselves has to go– some of the things we hold dear, the friends who surround us,  the institutions that have upheld us.  Our way must give way to  God’s way.

We think so little of this.

Listen again to Augustine:  “What does prepare the way mean, if not be humble in your thoughts? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

“If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

“He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.”