So Jesus reassures John’s disciples of what he has done that makes him “the one to come”: Jesus has healed, even the dead, even the blind, even the deaf, even the lame. He heals. As they are leaving to tell John this news — which fulfills procephy and puts a new spin on how a Messiah is to save the world — by healing not by killing — Jesus turns to the crowd. And in just a few verses he makes a brilliant speech. I can see it the way I can see certain scenes of Shakespeare or how I felt when I heard a few politicans speak back in the day. The magic of evoking intensity and focus and memory and turning a gathering of people into a moment of power — and we’ll see Jesus, as always, spin that moment in an unexpected way.
So, says Jesus, when you out to the Jordon river, what did you see? And we too have been there, right, in my little blog here. What have we seen? Have we seen a reed shaken in the wind? Was John the Baptist weak or blown by fashion?
John, certainly not a reed, was not blowing with the winds of normal, or of even prudent.
No, we say. Perhaps this is just a murmur. Can you sense the crowd turning their thoughts back to their baptism in the Jordan, to the muddy water, perhaps it was cold, perhaps John’s words were stabbed into their hearts.
So, says Jesus, when you out to the river, what did you see? Did you see someone dress in soft clothes?
No, we say. And perhaps we chuckle. Can you hear the chuckle rippling through the crowd? John was the opposite of being dressed in soft clothes. John was the opposite of rich. John was the opposite of powerful.
We’re getting in the swing of this now.
So, says Jesus, was John a prophet?
Yes, we shout. Yes. We remember the winnowing fork and the burning fire. Yes, we shout, John was a prophet.
And I can imagine Jesus just beaming at the crowd, leaning in to us, feeling the energy of the crowd. Yes, Jesus said, no one born of woman has arisen greater than John. And we — the crowd — there is pleasure and even pride in having a right answer, in pleasing Jesus with this answer. We got one right!
But, Jesus adds, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.
And the crowd goes: what? We’re confused again! There’s a profound silence, I imagine. To block this, have the camera move into the crowd and see someone turn to another and shrug in confusion; see someone else’s face open in amazement. If the very least in the Kingdom of Heaven are greater than John, if even John might not be good enough for the Kingdom of Heaven, is there no chance at all me?
Or perhaps is Jesus calling us to an entirely different viewpoint — if the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, right here, being created, then if I’m a part of that, with all my faults and failings, and John the Baptist is a part of that with his strength and vision and passion, if we’re all a part of creating and birthing the Kingdom of Heaven, then it isn’t — maybe — about winning, losing, top dogs, losers, worthiness, goodness, honor. Maybe we can toss out the rankings and just cherish each other. Maybe it is about God’s great love for us, about Grace, which is a gift.
And all we need are ears to hear!