Saying 46 / C

[46]. Jesus says: “From Adam to John the Baptist, among those who have been born of women, there is none greater than John the Baptist! But for fear that the eyes should be lost I have said: He who among you shall be the small shall know the Kingdom and be higher than John!”


Most commentators seem to thinkthat this saying was a retelling, with some changes, of Matthew 11:11-12 … Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none 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 suffers violence, 9 and the violent are taking it by force.

The meaning – the NAB says … “John’s preeminent greatness lies in his function of announcing the imminence of the kingdom (β‡’ Matthew 3:1). But to be in the kingdom is so great a privilege that the least who has it is greater than the Baptist.”

What I find interesting is the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. If I understand correctly, based on the interaction between Mary and Elizabeth, Jesus and John were relatives, perhaps cousins. They were very close in age, probably knew each other growing up, and they both chose the religious life. Jesus asked John to baptise him and they both continued to preach for a time (about 6 more months for John?), though their styles were very different … John was an ascetic who wore rope fiber clothing and ate “locusts and wild honey” (Matt. 3:4) … Jesus, however, was seen by some as a drunkard and a glutton. The NAB says there was likely some tension between the followers of Jesus and John, and John did lose a few disciples to Jesus.

I suppose all of this had some influence on the saying in Matthew. The question arises of why Thomas, if he did get the saying from Matthew, decided to change it somewhat. Maybe it had to do with the Gnostic view of John? According to Wikipedia … In Gnosticism, John the Baptist was a “personification” of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. According to Gnostic theology, John the Baptist was a Prophet from the Old Testament who did not know the True God (the God of the New Testament), and thus had to be reincarnated. As predicted by the Old Testament prophet Malachi, Elijah must “come first” to herald the coming of Jesus Christ.


2 responses

  1. This logion seems to adulate John the Baptist, but suggests that although his virtue is commendable John does not reach the full dimension of Christ. It is only in becoming small that one reaches this dimension. Becoming small makes room for Christ. Now it makes sense to me when John the Baptist stated, β€œHe must increase, and I must decrease.”

  2. You could look on this as a commentary on Matthew 11:11. It seems pretty straightforward except for the reference to the eyes: Leloup interprets that to mean that “John’s vision is true as far as it goes and should be followed.”He was the precursor who announced the coming of the Lord (cf Isaiah 40:3-5), and Jesus as I recall referred to him as such in the synoptics.Leloup suggests poetically that what John represents may for some of us be art, music, science, nature, anything that prepares our mind and spirit for the “coming of the Lord”.In Acts we encounter followers of John the Baptist in the same way that we encounter art, music, etc. as the highest good for some people, maybe for us in prior years. Kierkiegaard refered to the aesthetic as preChristian.John was preChristian and hence less than one of the least of these in the kingdom.

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