15.12.2019 — Exchange between the Messenger and the Message

3rd Sunday of Advent, – 15th December 2019 — Gospel: Mt 11,2-11

Exchange between the Messenger and the Message

In this section John seeks to discern Jesus’ identity (11,2-6) and Jesus makes known John’s identity and mission (11,7-11). The exchange between the messenger and the message leads to figure out Jesus’ identity and mission.

Earlier John had proclaimed the coming of a stringent judge and a fiery judgment (3,1-12). Now John hears the messianic works of preaching and healing performed by Jesus, which does not match his preconceptions. So he poses this question, “Is Jesus the object and fulfillment of all Messianic prophecy?” His question echoes his previous statement: “One who is more powerful than I is coming after me” (3,11). Perhaps John has become less confident that Jesus is the Messiah due to his own imprisonment, the increasing opposition to Jesus, the delay of God’s judgment upon sin, and the oppressive religious and political leaders. John’s question gives Jesus an opportunity to confirm his own identity and to clarify the role of John as forerunner of the Messiah.

The high point in Jesus’ messianic mission is not the series of healings (Is 29,18-19; 35,5-6), not even the raising of the dead (Is 25,8), but rather the preaching of good news to the poor (Is 61,1-2). In these messianic acts the prophecies are being fulfilled and the time of salvation is at hand. With one more beatitude (11,6) Jesus gently appeals to John not to stumble and fall from faith. Because Jesus is a different type of Messiah, very different from the one John the Baptist expected. Blessed is he who does not “look for another” because in that case he is looking for the fulfillment of his own dreams rather than of God’s prophecies. This beatitude encourages believers not to focus on the increasing opposition which leads to doubt, but to realize the presence of salvation made known in their midst. 

After Jesus has answered John’s inquiry about who Jesus is, he turns now to the crowds and asks who John is. With six rapid-fire questions Jesus excludes the various possibilities one by one and leaves the inquirer with only one conclusion. John was neither a vacillating crowd pleaser nor an influential politician; but he was a sturdy prophet, who unwaveringly challenged the corrupt authority. He was a prophet allowed to see the age of fulfillment (13,17); indeed, he became part of the messianic age he prophesied. He was the messenger of the covenant (Mal 3,1), the end-time messenger God sent before his Messiah as guide (Ex 23,20). Anyone who, by his discipleship commitment and his close tie to Jesus, experiences the kingdom that has come in a new way in Jesus, has a privilege in salvation history even beyond John the Baptist. One’s status in the kingdom is not one’s achievement, but a free gift from God, who assigns places as he wills (20,23).