Reading: Matthew 11.11-15
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!’Matthew 11.11-15 NRSV
Jesus said: Let anyone with ears listen.
How many times do we catch ourselves daydreaming? No matter how strong our resolve to hear every word of that television programme, that debate, that educational talk, that sermon(!), we suddenly become aware that we, at some point, ‘switched off’ and our focus was elsewhere. This is, of course, quite a normal trait. In our busy lives there are so many distractions, so many different ways of diverting out attention away from that which is truly important.
Today’s reading presents us with someone who remained focused throughout his short life: John the Baptist. John’s whole raison d’être was to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. His mission was foretold in the Old Testament, and especially in the book of the prophet Isaiah. His message was one that should be our guiding light as we journey through the season of Advent.
Our reading is located some way into the Gospel of St Matthew. To put it in context, it comes after John has been imprisoned and, from his prison cell, he sends messengers to ask Jesus if he is the one who is to come or, he goes on to ask: are we to wait for another? John’s question, asked as he languishes in Herod’s prison, could be seen as something asked out of desperation. Could John be asking whether his whole life has been a misguided waste of time? Or, could John be asking for reassurance that his mission has been fulfilled? Is John asking for conclusive proof, or for reassurance.
Jesus’ answer is one that reassures John that the ancient prophecies, in which he too features, are being fulfilled. Jesus acknowledges the importance of John’s role in the great gospel story – his self-sacrifice and his commitment. John’s strength of purpose means that he, John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, is named by Jesus as the one who has risen far beyond all others … despite his shabby appearance and strange diet!
Today we are being challenged to be as focused as John as we travel the Christian way, the way that will prepare others to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Holding to that mission, remaining focused on our role as disciples and apostles is not easy, because we are so easily distracted. As our pilgrimage through Advent goes on, let us pray that we might join John the Baptist in helping others on their journey of faith, and let us pray that we might not be distracted by all that would lead us from the level path.