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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ
comes again as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.
Psalm 145.1, 8-13
I will exalt you, O God my King,
and bless your name for ever and ever.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
long-suffering and of great goodness.
The Lord is loving to everyone
and his mercy is over all his creatures.
All your works praise you, O Lord,
and your faithful servants bless you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your mighty power,
To make known to all peoples your mighty acts
and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your dominion endures throughout all ages.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!’
Most of us will have encountered, or even used, ‘selective deafness’ – the sort of deafness that cuts us off from the things we do not want to hear. I believe we all have the ability to become selectively deaf when we are confronted with tasks or truths that we find unpalatable. Rather than tackling a problem head-on, we pretend that we haven’t heard, we claim a level of deniability as a way of justifying our inaction. The easiest way to avoid that which is challenging is to pretend we never heard.
In today’s reading Jesus confronts this issue of selective deafness in his affirmation of the life and ministry of John the Baptist. Jesus makes a great claim on behalf of John. Jesus says that: among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. This is an astounding statement. Jesus, the Son of God, is saying that the greatest of all human beings was John the Baptist. But … Jesus also goes on to say: the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
To understand Jesus’ words we have to turn off our ‘selective deafness’ and we have to engage with the totality of God’s relationship with humanity, including the bits we find most challenging. John’s ministry of baptism and repentance was that of the last in the line of the great prophets, those sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. John’s place in the prophetic procession was foretold in great detail, and he did not waver from fulfilling his destiny. But, John was not the long-awaited Messiah.
John had his followers, but those followers needed to understand that being a disciple of John was not the end of the story. John was pointing the way towards a level of discipleship that would bring them into a closer relationship with one far greater than he. John’s destiny was to go from the front of the procession to the back. For John’s mission and ministry to be complete, there had to come the time when he would become the one who was remembered for the good job he had done, and very little more.
Many who heard Jesus speak would have been very familiar with the large crowds who had gathered around John. They would have understood Jesus’ acclamation of John’s ‘greatness’, whilst struggling with the notion that he should now be seen as comparatively insignificant because: the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
We can only wonder at how many fell away at this point. Some would certainly have struggled with the thought that they had followed the wrong person, even if his status as a messenger from God was not in question. However, Jesus’ message was not the same as that of John. Jesus’ message was not one of prophecy, but rather of fulfilment. This is what Jesus means when he says: Let anyone with ears listen!
Jesus was leading those around him, just as he continues to lead us, into a new life and a new relationship with his Heavenly Father. But … we need to hear that message, and to take it to heart if that relationship is to flourish. Let us pray that we might find the courage to hear and accept Jesus’ challenge. Let us pray that, having heard and received John’s message, we may be ready to take the next step and become faithful disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ, the true Messiah.
Prayers of intercession
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
Saving God, you sent John to prepare the way for your Son. Give your Church grace to hear the cry in the spiritual wilderness. Transform our hearts to be open to your Spirit.
Saving God, you sent John to straighten the crooked and level the rocky path. Challenge devious minds with your justice and truth. Raise leaders of integrity and passion.
Saving God, you sent John to baptize for repentance and forgiveness. Give to all people humility to examine their lives with honesty and devotion. Turn us away from the deceit of self and others.
Saving God, you sent John empowered by your word. Speak your words of healing to all in anguish or distress. Bless us with your love and mercy.
Saving God, you sent John to announce your redeeming presence. Receive into your tender care all who have died. May we come to see your salvation.
Prayer for the week
Father in heaven,
our hearts desire the warmth of your love
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming
may find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcoming the light of his truth.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.