Have you ever questioned the faith? It may not be the whole faith, it may just be a part of it. Given that we do not know every aspect of our faith (that’s the beauty of the mystery) if you are anything like me, you have at least questioned parts of it. This is not always a bad thing. I had a lecturer some years back point out to me that the opposite of faith is not doubt but the rejection of faith. You see, doubt can lead us to God, it is the place of learning or as St. Anselm puts it “Faith seeking understanding.”
This week’s Gospel points exactly to that, eliminating doubt so that we may grow in faith closer to Christ. It is no surprise that this is done through John the Baptist who personified and prepared the way to Jesus. At this Advent time, John enables us to look carefully at Jesus and allows us to decide who he is for us: do we look at Jesus through eyes of faith?
From the prison cell John tells his disciples to ask Jesus if he (Jesus) is the one who was to come. Typically, Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. Jesus tells them of the sorts of things that he is doing – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life. Some say that John the Baptist may have needed convincing of who Jesus actually is and point to his pending death which would then mark the end of his ministry. If he was to prepare the way for the one to come, had he got the right “one?”
I am not of this school. I propose – and it really is no more than that – that John the Baptist, the one who leaped in his mothers womb at the sound of Mary’s voice, the one who was related to Jesus and knew him in their early life, the one who reluctantly baptized Jesus (for John thought he should be baptized by Jesus), knew who Jesus really was before anyone else, perhaps except for his Blessed Mother and her spouse, St. Joseph. Notice knowledge. Knowledge is not faith. Faith (a grace of God) requires more from us. We can use our own faculties to know something; to believe in something requires all that and more. Faith is not required when we know (angels do not have faith, they have knowledge).
Then why did John send messengers? John had lost some followers to Jesus earlier, but only some. John again points the way to Jesus; the messengers are to recognize what John sees: that Jesus is the Messiah. The actions listed by Jesus confirm that he is the Messiah for these are what the Messiah would be expected to do. It is not for the sake of John that the messengers are sent, it is for the sake of the messengers!
In talking about John, Jesus, referring to a number of verses from the Hebrew scriptures, points to how great John is; “one greater than John the Baptist has never been seen”. However the key word is “Yet.” No matter how great John is “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” The entry into the kingdom of heaven is not death, but faith: a faith developed by questioning the doubts, but founded in first not ‘taking offence’ (some translate to ‘lose faith’) in Jesus. Recognize who Jesus is and accept him for who he is (the Messiah). Those who even begin this process, the least in the kingdom of heaven, are greater than John because of their faith (remember, John had knowledge).
John the Baptist acts as a hinge between the end of the Old Testament period and the kingdom of heaven on earth, seen today in the New Testament. He also acts as a model for us to encourage others towards an encounter with the Christ. He not only prepares the way for Jesus, he also helps prepare others to receive him. In this Advent season be sure to prepare your way, but not at the cost of others: prepare them to receive Jesus.