John Asks for the Sake of his Disciples

Advent 3 Sunday

Matthew 11:2-3

“But when John heard in prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and had them say to him: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?”

The majority of what I have found on this gospel lesson centers on the question of whether St. John knew that Jesus was the true Christ. But this is an unnecessary question on which not much depends. St. Ambrose thinks that John did not ask out of ignorance or doubt, but with a Christian opinion. Jerome and Gregory write that John asked whether he would also be Christ’s forerunner in hell–and this view has the least basis in the text, because it clearly says, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we wait for another?” This “waiting,” according to the words, refers to his coming to earth, to the Jewish people. Otherwise, he would have asked, “Or are those in hell waiting for you?” Moreover, since Christ answers
that he has come by pointing to his works, it is certain that John asked about the bodily coming of Christ, because Christ understands the question in this way and answers accordingly. Of course, I do not deny that Christ also descended into hell, as we pray in the Creed. It is certain, then, that John knew well that Jesus was the one who was to come. For he had baptized him and testified that he was the Lamb of God who bore the sin of the world. John had also seen the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ in the form of a dove and heard the voice from heaven, “This is my dear Son with whom I am well pleased,” Mark 1:11. All four evangelists write about this in great detail. Why, then, did he ask this question? Answer: He raised it not without the necessary reason. First, it is certain that John has the question asked for the sake of his disciples. For they did not yet regard Christ as he was to be regarded. And John did not come into the world to draw the disciples and the people to himself, but to prepare Christ the way and lead everybody to Christ and to make them all subject to Christ. Now, John’s disciples had heard from John many glorious testimonies about Christ, how he was God’s Lamb and Son, and how Christ would have to increase while he, John, would have to decrease. John’s disciples and the people did not yet believe all this, or at least they could not understand it. Rather, they and everybody thought much of John, not of Christ. This is also why they firmly stuck with John, were zealous for him, and become angry with Christ when they saw that he, too, was baptizing and receiving disciples and drew the people to himself. They complained about this to John, worried that their teacher would decrease, as we read in John 3:26.

St. Louis ed., 11:72-74.

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