John the Baptist was a great prophet. In fact, in today’s gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus tells us that John was the greatest of all of the prophets. Yet in a puzzling statement Jesus also reminds us that even the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John.
Jesus said to the crowds:
“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,
and the violent are taking it by force.
All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.
And if you are willing to accept it,
he is Elijah, the one who is to come.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
So, what gives? Some of us might worry that if John the Baptist was not worthy, who can be saved? Jesus’ words, however, are not meant as a slight to John. Instead, Jesus is teaching us that even the greatest, most virtuous person is in the end nothing without faith in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. We do not earn our salvation. It is a gift brought forth by the sacrifice of Christ.
So why was John less than the least in the Kingdom of Heaven? Because at the time that he spoke of John, Jesus’ victory over death had not yet been accomplished. John did not experience the resurrection of Jesus, as his disciples and followers did and continue to do.
We are the lucky ones.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.