John the Baptist

The disciples of John the Baptist visit Jesus on John’s behalf to ask if Jesus is, in fact, the promised Messiah. [1]  Jesus tells them the evidence is in; look at the work done. He then praises John but then tells his followers that John is less than those who have found the Kingdom of God.     


The relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth is confusing. The Gospel accounts tell us that the two were cousins and came from the same group of Galileans dedicated to the preservation of the teachings of the law and the prophets. However, the two took different roads to bring people to and back to the rule of God.

John becomes and ascetic. He goes out into the wilderness east of the Jordan to find God; he dons a tunic made of camel’s skin, and John eats what he can find in the desert. John emerges from the wilderness demanding that the people repent and be cleansed in holy water and in doing so he attracts followers and a large crowd of the curious.

Jesus, by contrast, does not don strange clothing, lives by his wits in the desert, and he does not demand repentance before curing the blind, helping the disturbed and bringing people back to life. With friends, Jesus finds comfort in sharing meals. He mingles with sinners, and he teaches that the kingdom of God is within reach.

After John’s disciples leave Jesus, he continues to talk about John. The most puzzling thing he says about the Baptist is, “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. ”[2]  Jesus continues,

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! [3]

In these words, Jesus tells his followers that the days of the prophets are over and that they see the fulfillment of the law and the prophets in Jesus. That fulfillment is love.

The reason why John is the least in the kingdom is that he calls only for repentance and does not call on the people of God to love, to reach beyond the bounds of their ethnicity and the rules that keep people from each other and knowing that God is love.


Greek Icon–Jesus healing Blind Bartimaus.

The difference between John the Baptist and Jesus is that Jesus teaches that God wants us to attain a higher level of living—God wants humanity to see a need for God, a need for love. Just before and as John comes on to the scene, violence has been the result of trying to take the kingdom of God by force. Anger has been the theme, note that John refers to the Pharisees and the priestly class as a “brood of vipers.” Further, the struggle has not been to bring people into the embrace of God’s love but rather a struggle between the powerful, namely Herod Antipas, and the everyday people. Jesus asks, “Did you go out to see a man in fine robes and reed blowing in the wind?” The beautiful clothes and the reed in the wind are direct references to Herod. John warned people to repent and in so doing move away from the influence of those in fine robes and who use a reed as a symbol on the coins they mint in their    treasury. In other words, John was involved in a political struggle and expected the Messiah to come and remove the political powers that are oppressing the people.

Granted, in this time of expectation, this Advent Season, John the Baptist comes out of the wilderness to tell the world that the Messiah is coming. He warns the people of Israel must prepare the way and be open to the Messiah’s coming, but there’s more than being ready for a new king or a new ruler. There’s plenty rulers, there’s more than enough kings, the Messiah to come is bringing a new message beyond repent, it is a message of love based on the brotherhood and the sisterhood of humanity.

The essential difference between these cousins was that John called for a political revolution while Jesus came to teach a spiritual revolution. Both will die for their causes. However, Jesus and the spiritual revolution prevailed. Sometimes life’s messages are violence remains and must be met—sometimes with violence. The Body of Christ, the Church, must remember that the message of John the Baptist is not the message of the Church. Yes, the Church calls us to repent, to turn away from sin and turn to God, but the greater message is to love .

[1] Matthew 11:2-11.

[2] Matthew 11:11.

[3] Matthew 11:14-15.











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