|Heinrich Hoffman 1824-1911|
Have you ever wondered why St. John sent his disciples to Christ to ask if He was the Messiah? John knew exactly Who Jesus was. They were cousins, after all, and John knew Jesus from the womb. He also must have met him at least occasionally during their growing-up years, particularly when Mary and Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, "every year" as St. Luke tells, for the Passover.
Wouldn't John and his parents go as well? And isn't it likely that they all traveled together as they returned home after the feast? We don't know exactly where John's family lived, only that it was in the hill country of Judea not too far from Jerusalem where Zacchariah served in the temple for two weeks of the year. It's likely that for at least part of the journey they visited together. And Luke confirms that they looked for Jesus first among their "relatives and friends." They probably quizzed John since he and Jesus were almost the same age and spiritually of one heart and mind. Remember, after Mary, John was the most privileged human creation. And think of how human cousins enjoy each other's company. Yes, it's likely that John helped look for Jesus among the travelers in the caravan.
|Jesus and St. John the Baptist|
Children with Shell
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo 1617-1682
- John wanted "to make [Jesus] known to the whole world." In order that his disciples might do that he wanted them "to see Him whom he had announced to them" so that so that they could preach and make him "known to everyone." Just like the angels sent the shepherds to Bethlehem to see the Messiah for themselves and believe. Seeing is believing as the saying goes and Jesus Himself tells them to describe to John what they see. It's almost as if John and Jesus are sharing a private joke. "Here are your students back again, class completed."
- "The second reason he sent them was this: he did not want to draw disciples to himself, but only to his Teacher, to whose school he now sends them so that they might be instructed personally by Him....If teachers and those who have spiritual care of others try, by beautiful words, to draw to themselves the disciples whom they teach and the souls for whom they care, they are like pagans, heretics, and other who talk and ramble on, and who take great pains in the pulpit to deliver beautiful, subtle and finely crafted discourses, whose sole purpose is not to lead souls to Jesus Christ, but only to themselves!...True servants of God, on the contrary, preach and teach those whom they guide only so as to lead them to God."
Wow! Is this ever relevant to our own day! How many showman and glad-handing priests have you experienced out there who love to receive honors and gifts and the adulation of the flock? How many "nice guy" priests do you know who refuse to preach the hard truth for fear of offending anyone (except Almighty God)? And how many of us care more about human respect from family, friends, and neighbors than we care about giving God what's due to Him. How many times have you heard, "Hey, what am I supposed to do -- alienate [Take your pick: my son who's marrying outside the Church and expects me to go, my daughter who's in a lesbian relationship and wants my approval, my grandson who wants me to attend a morally evil play in which he has a major part, anyone in my family who regularly blasphemes God's Holy Name]? I have to live with these people! How can I offend them?" And so we choose cowardice and the sin of omission rather than praying and finding the right opportunity to speak the truth in love.
And then there is St. John's third reason:
- John sent his disciples to Jesus "to detach them from himself. He feared they would be led into the great error of esteeming him more than the Saviour. They were already complaining to St. John in this manner: Teacher, you and we, your disciples, along with the Pharisees, fast. We are poorly clothed and do great penance. But this man, this great prophet who performs so many miracles among us, does not do so. [Matt.9:14; Mk. 2:18]. I hearing this, and in seeing that the love and esteem which his disciples felt for him was beginning to produce in them a feeling of contemp for Jesus Christ, St. John sent them to this Divine Majesty to be instructed and informed in the truth."
This third reason was enlightening to me. I presumed John wanted to detach his disciples since he made it clear that he himself "must decrease" while the Lamb of God "must increase." But it never occurred to me that the disciples of John were falling into the same rash judgment as the Pharisees.
It makes perfect sense though. John preached radical repentance and witnessed extreme austerity wearing animal skins and eating locusts and wild honey (Yuck to the locust part!). That was his role as he "made straight the way of the Lord." Jesus, on the other hand, is known for feasting with sinners and tax collectors. Is it any wonder John's disciples, presumably all zealous in their faith and devoted to John, found it hard to change loyalty to someone being slandered as a glutton and drunkard? [Matt. 11:19]
|"Tell John what you hear and see."|
Portrait of Christ by Hoffman
It seems obvious from the conversation with John's disciples that Jesus took them along with him for the day (or maybe more) and that they observed the miracles He worked. And then He told them. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached to the poor." [Luke 7:22] Once again: seeing is believing!
St. Francis says that when John's disciples asked Jesus, "Who are you?" He didn't try to justify Himself, He basically said, "Come and see for yourself." It's "show and tell" time. And He does this, St. Francis goes on, "to teach us that it is our works and not our words that give testimony to what we are, we who are so full of pride." Ouch!
I only read a dozen pages at adoration but what a lot to think about! I'll be sharing more from the Sermons as I sit at the feet of St. Francis de Sales this Advent. How I look forward to learning from this holy and humble Doctor of the Church.
I think the watchword for my Advent meditation is HUMILITY -- to learn it and live it. What a challenge! And so, I'm also going to be praying the Litany of Humility every day. Only little, humble people were invited to the first Christmas to see Our Lord and Savior. And I want above all this Christmas season to hear the words, "Come and see."