bible blog 1174

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


a unique person

a unique person

Matthew 11:7-15

New English Translation (NET)

While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? Look, those who wear fancy clothes are in the homes of kings! What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come. 15 The one who has ears had better listen!

Jesus gives John great honour as the last and greatest of the prophets, but adds that the most insignificant person who shares in God’s rule through Jesus’ ministry, is “greater” than John because he/she shares actively in what John only promised. The “memory of Jesus” preserved in the gospels shows that Jesus did believe that his own ministry was decisive in making God’s goodness available to Israel. John belongs to the old age; Jesus and his followers belong to the “age to come” which is starting in his ministry.

Donatello: John Baptist

Donatello: John Baptist

John is compared a figure in the Hebrew scripture: the messenger of Malachi 3:1 who precedes the “angel of the Lord” coming to his temple; (readers will find it illuminating to look up this passage and see its relevance to Jesus), who is later in Malachi 3:23 identified with the prophet Elijah. This identification not only gives John great importance, but emphasises that his greatness is precisely as a precursor and not as the main man. Probably Jesus felt no challenge from the great prophet, but all the gospel writers show themselves anxious to put John in his place, perhaps because he still had disciples who challenged the place of Jesus.

Using the slightly complex language of Jewish messianism, this passage makes a crucial claim: Jesus may use some of the tactics of a prophet but he is not a prophet because he is fulfilment rather than promise; the presence of God’s rule rather the expectation of it. It makes the claim that Jesus is uniquely important in God’s dealing with Israel, and indeed with the world. There is no way of justifying this claim; it represents a decisive act of trust by the person who makes it. It is not first of all a claim that Jesus is superior to other teachers. I trusted Jesus long before I knew of Socrates, The Buddha, Mohammed or any other great teachers. But as I have come to know them I have considered that the revelation in Jesus’ life and teaching is deeper and more compelling for me, even if they have helped me to know Jesus better. I think he is the truth to which their truths bear witness. 

Of course I realise that this will seem arrogant and condescending to those who hold to another faith or truth but I would urge them to accept that it represents a real choice. When I  take Jesus as the final truth rather than Mohammed (Peace upon him), I accept that violence in the cause of religion is never justified. I can see the case for violent jihad in certain circumstances; it’s a strong case, but one that no true disciple of Jesus can accept, even if the official church has often done so. When I take Jesus as the final truth rather than the Buddha, I accept that individual personality is not an illusion to be shattered and discarded, but an irreplaceable part of the shared life of God’s children. I can see the appeal of the Buddhist view that I am nothing more than a wave which is always and finally the same as the ocean, but I hold firmly to the unique worth of the individual character of Jesus, and therefore of all people.

Face of the Buddha

Face of the Buddha

I have only arrived at these views through studying other religions and philosophies, and enjoying the friendship of people who hold them, who judge the way of Jesus to be inadequate compared with their own. This leads to the humour of people who all seek truth but do not arrive at the same truth. Perhaps the cause of disagreement is not only our choices but also the inadequacy of our understanding, and we can look towards a final revelation that reconciles us.

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