“No One Was Greater Than John”
Today’s Gospel passage is part of a larger section which describes the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, as seen through the eyes of their disciples.
John has understood who Jesus is, and has grasped what Jesus’s mission is to be. John’s disciples however are confused, partly because popular ideas of the messiah were mixed up with political expectations. This is why Jesus uses a reference from the prophet Isaiah about the messianic age – “the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the ‘good news’ preached to them” – to signify that with him something new and transforming has come into the world.
And John the Baptist is a witness to this.
Then Jesus praises John for being the herald of the messiah. Because of this mission, John is indeed the greatest prophet there is – he replays the role of the great Israeli prophet Elijah. John’s announcements of the coming of the messiah imply a way of living which is freed from corruption and selfishness, and this invites “violence”.
The expression, “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence” may be read in two senses: the first is one must do violence to one’s unruly desires by the practice of self-denial. The second -- adherence to God’s ways invariably invite hostility and persecution.
Every disciple is meant to understand this, and to live accordingly.
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