December 12, 2004
2 When John the Baptist heard in prison about the activities of Christ, he sent a message by his disciples, 3 asking him: “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus answered them, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life and good news is reaching the poor. 6 And how fortunate is the one who does not take offense at me.”
7 As the messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “When you went out to the desert, what did you expect to see? A reed swept by the wind? 8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? People who wear fine clothes live in palaces. 9 What did you actually go out to see? A prophet? Yes, indeed, and even more than a prophet. 10 He is the man of whom Scripture says: I send my messenger ahead of you to prepare the way before you.
11 I tell you this: no one greater than John the Baptist has come forward among the sons of women, and yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
• 11.1 See commentary on Lk 7:18.
Jesus has sent the first missionaries: for Matthew it is the time to show how the Kingdom comes the coming of which they have proclaimed. The visit of the disciples of John will help us to understand what Jesus brings and what cannot be expected of him.
The paragraph which follows in 11:25 will show in its way that what is all-important in the Kingdom is the person of Jesus himself.
Good news is reaching the poor… (v. 5). Jesus’ message includes a preferential love of God for the poor and for those who share with them in their poverty. The Gospel is not for them also, but for them first.
EVANGELIZATION OF THE POOR AS A PRIORITY
Good news is reaching the poor (v. 5). This text is to be read together with Luke 1:52; 4:18; 6:20; 10:23.
It would be wrong to interpret this text as thinking only that God asks of us to catechize less instructed people, or those of lower condition in life. In the time of Jesus the Pharisees already thought their duty was to teach simple and uneducated people; Jesus instead sent his apostles, poor among the poor, to enable them to discover the presence and working of God the Father. The concrete life of the rural and urban poor is the context in which fundamental experiences occur that will renew the world and the spiritual life of everyone.
V. 6. See another way of translating this sentence in Luke 7:23.
V. 11. No one greater than John the Baptist has come forward. This verse refers to a prophet or to a political leader.
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• 18. Jesus and John the Baptist. The situation has been reversed. John appeared as a great prophet, while Jesus began preaching in John’s wake but without the same impact (3:18-20). Now John is in prison and Jesus is known as a healer. Has John doubts in prison? It is possible even if he had told some of his followers that Jesus would take his place. It might be more accurate to interpret his question as a pressing invitation: “If you are the one who is to come, why so much delay?”
John’s disciples did witness the cures, but the cures are not everything and Jesus adds: the poor hear good news because real evangelization restores hope and leaves people renewed.
The blind see, the lame walk… (v. 22). The prophets foretold these signs (Is 35:5) that were really something new, because in the past God usually manifested himself as a powerful savior. These healings pointed to the liberation that Jesus was bringing: not punishment of sinners (which was a great part of John the Baptist’s preaching) but, before all else, reconciliation suited to healing a world of sinners, of violent and resentful people.
Fortunate are those who encounter me, but not for their downfall (v. 23). And fortunate are those who do not doubt Christ’s salvation after seeing the fruits of evangelization. Fortunate are those who do not say: this way is too slow. The Gospel shows its richness in giving life to people, in restoring hope to those who have experienced weakness and sin. It is necessary to have seen and understood that this is most important.
It does not matter if the world seems to continue to surrender to the forces of evil. The presence of liberated people compels others to define themselves in terms of good and evil and this makes the world grow.
With this, Jesus answers the disciples of John, men who are self-sacrificing and concerned for the triumph of God’s cause. Perhaps they are so absorbed in their search for justice that they fail to recognize God’s powerful working in Jesus’ actions, which appeared so gentle and mild.
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1. An important question: What are you looking for and where are you looking? What are your expectations?
One of our expectations is to see something we can name out of our past experience -- a prophet, so to speak, bringing a new perspective or some mighty act in a small, specific instance.
Beyond that we hope, yearn for, and even yet expect something more; something beyond our past experience; something that will open a way ahead. This something includes the presence of GOD present, the apostolate of the poor among the poor that spiritually renews the world and each within it to a new earth and a new heaven.
2. Good news reverses a course of regular news stuck on a background drone or news that spirals below a lowest common denominator of separation on the basis of stuff or language.
3. Moving beyond leasts and greats is a place of liberation which is not only braver and fuller, but a call, simply be residing there, not needing a particular act, to others to come in -- the water’s fine. The presence and working of GOD becomes the presence and work of ours healing from leastness and greatness through reconciliation of our fear with larger joy -- liberation of stuckness -- connection with our apostolate.
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