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!’
It is during the season of Advent that we think of John the Baptist. John was the one who was foretold in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. John was the herald, sent by God, to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. In today’s reading we hear of Jesus telling the crowds just how important John is in God’s plan for the human race.
John was not the first prophet sent by God. The Old Testament gives us many accounts of those who sought to bring God’s message to men and women down the ages. Those prophets were all rejected by those amongst whom they lived, and yet they went on preaching the word of God until the end of their earthly lives. John, of course, was not just another one of those prophets. John was someone special. John was the one who would bring a message of repentance as he heralded in the days of the Messiah.
Like other prophets John had a certainty about him that was disconcerting to the religious authorities of the day, and yet, despite that air of certainty, today’s reading comes just after John has sent some of his followers to ask Jesus the big question: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? Perhaps even John had a moment when he wondered if it could really be true. But Jesus reminds John of the things they have seen and heard. Jesus acknowledges that there are moments of questioning, but he also asks those who doubt to look at the evidence that is before their eyes.
We know that John’s life will have a sad and brutal end, just as will the life of Jesus. However, we also know that John will remain true to the end, just as we are called to be true to the ends of our own earthly lives. And, just as Jesus remains true to the humanity he came to save.
Human beings have always struggled with the teaching and the preaching of prophets. We are hard-wired to demand evidence. We struggle with the concept of faith. But, John the Baptist showed us the path of true faith, and Jesus respected and honoured John for remaining true to that path, never deviating from it for one moment. Jesus understood that John had to ask his question, but Jesus was also certain that John’s very human question was not rooted in a doubt that would undermine God’s plan.
Today we are being called to hold firm to our faith in Jesus Christ. The world is throwing many challenges at us, and many questions are being asked. But … we need to hold on to the fact that God is faithful and true; that God sent his own Son to save humanity; and that God loves us with a love far beyond our wildest flights of fancy. We may want to ask questions, and God will understand that, but never let those questions and our inadequate human answers get in the way of our faith.