Not Johnians, but Christians

Advent 3 Monday

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?”

John’s disciples did not understand the great things John said about Christ for two reasons: First, Christ had initially not been called among the people; he had been called only by John. Also, he had not done any signs initially and no one except John thought much of him. This is why they found it strange that John directed them and everybody else away from himself to Jesus, although only he, John, was renowned and famous at the time. The other reason was that Christ walked about in such a simple and humble manner, as the son of a poor carpenter and a poor widow. Moreover, he was not of priestly ancestry, but was a layman and a common craftsman. He did not go to school, had been trained in carpentry like any other layman. John’s high, glorious testimony concerning the Christ would not square with the simple layman and craftsman Jesus. Thus, although they believed that John spoke the truth, they thought: “Perhaps the Christ will be someone other than this Jesus.” Accordingly, they waited for someone who rode along in majesty, e.g., a highly learned high priest or a mighty king. And John was unable to deliver them from this erroneous opinion by his words. They continued to cling to him and disregarded Jesus, while they waited for the glorious entry of the great man John was
talking about. And if Jesus was ever to be that great man, he would have to take a different approach, saddle a stallion, put on golden spurs, and burst onto the scene like a lord and king of Israel, as the kings did in the old days. As long as Jesus did not do this, John’s disciples would cling to John. Yet when Jesus began to work miracles and became famous, John though it was time to direct his disciples away from himself and bring them to Christ lest they established an hereditary sect after John’s death and became Johnians instead of clinging to Christ and becoming Christians. This is why John sent them away so that they would learn not only from his own testimony, but from Christ’s words and works that Jesus was the very man of whom John had spoken. For Christ’s works and entry should not be expected to take place with drums and trumpets and such worldly splendor but in spiritual power and grace, whereby not the pavement and carpets would be ridden on, but whereby the dead would become alive, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, and all kinds of evil would be cast out both bodily and spiritually. This was to be the entry of this King. All the kings, learned men, and wealthy men of the whole world combined could not perform the least of any of these works of Christ… Therefore, John is basically saying to his disciples: “Now you hear of his works. Neither I nor anyone before him ever did such works. Go yourselves and ask him whether he is not the one. But stop with that gross earthly misconception, thinking that Christ will appear with stallions and shiny armor. He already is starting to increase; I must now decrease. My life must cease and his must begin. You must let go of me and now cling to him.” Yet it easily understood how necessary it was that John directed his disciples from himself to Christ: What would it have helped them to follow John’s sanctity a thousand times without obtaining Christ? There is no help or counsel outside of Christ, no matter how holy a man might be…Yet John deals with them gently, puts up with their weak faith until they become strong. He does not reject them although they do not firmly believe him. We must deal likewise with consciences caught up in the examples and rules of holy people outside of Christ until we bring them out of this captivity.

St. Louis ed., 11:74-76.

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