GOSPEL: Matthew 11:1-10. Messengers from John the Baptist — At that time, “when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are You the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’ Jesus Praises John the Baptist — As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you”.
When John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus, in order to question Him about His mission, he was not ignorant either of His advent or of His dignity as the Messiah. He knew that Jesus was the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, for he had shown Him to others who had no knowledge of His divine nature. Indeed, the precursor had heard the almighty voice of the Father giving testimony: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 3:17). Now we know that our Saviour asked the Jews “to show Him the place where Lazarus had been buried,” though He knew it well, so that those who would accompany Him there, should begin to believe in His divine mission, when witnessing the miracle of the raising of Lazarus, that was to follow. In the same way John, who was to be condemned to death by the Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, Herod Antipas, sent his disciples to Jesus, that by witnessing His miracles and the operation of His divine and almighty power, they might believe in Him, as well as receive tutelage from the Divine Teacher Himself, whom they could then put questions to as their individual teacher. It seems that St. John’s disciples were incensed with our Lord; for the questions addressed to Him by them shortly before, plainly reveals their pride and envy. The Evangelist tells us how the disciples of John came to Him saying: ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?’ (Matthew 9:14). At another time the same disciples lamented to John and said to him: ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptising, and all are going to him.’ (John 3:26). It was as if they said: We are small in number and almost abandoned, for a great number are with Jesus Christ, and they follow Him.
St. John does not ask our Lord: Art Thou He that is come? But rather, he asks: Art Thou He that art to come? As if to say: Let me know whether, after announcing Your coming into this world, I shall not also announce Your coming into Limbo, where I shall soon be going? For is it acceptable and just that the Son of God should die? And is it not Your own wish to send someone to the righteous in Limbo and announce to them the mystery of Your arrival?
And Jesus answered the inquiring disciples and said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind can see, the lame can walk, the lepers have been cleansed, the deaf can hear and the dead have arisen. John had through his disciples asked this question of Jesus: Art Thou He that art to come, or look we for another? Yet, rather than answering this question, rather than removing doubt of what had scandalised them with one word, Jesus mentioned His miracles and said to them: Go and relate to John the miracles you have witnessed; speak of the blind who now see, of the lame who now walk, and of all other miraculous healings you have witnessed. And tell him another fact, no less astonishing, that the poor will now have the Gospel preached to them. By the poor our Saviour meant both those who are poor in spirit and the poor deprived of worldly possessions; for there will be no difference between the rich or the poor, the nobleman or the vassal when the Gospel is delivered to them. This also shows how just, wise and true the Divine Teacher is, Who, when working for the salvation of souls, considers all of humanity as equals. And the words which He added ‘blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me’ (Matthew 11:6) contain an admonishment and lesson to the disciples of John, as we will see later on.
And when the disciples of John went on their way, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the desert to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces’. Had our Lord the accursed St. John with the words, blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me, as many gave the false appearance, why then would He overwhelm him with praises? If truth be told, Jesus was expressing admiration for John the Baptist, because the crowds did not understand the meaning of the disciples’ question, and even thought John was still in doubt as to whether Jesus really was the Messiah, though he had already pointed Him out as the rightful Lamb of God. In order, therefore, to give the crowds understanding, John did not send his disciples for the sole purpose of clearing up his own doubt, but to have them instructed, our Lord said: ‘What did you go out into the desert to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?’; an unfaithful man who is still in doubt about the mission of Him Whom he had already announced? Do you think he envies Me, and that by his preaching he seeks only his own truthfulness and glorification and even self-interests? And how could opulence and refined foods gladden a person who normally prepares his food of locusts and wild honey? Would soft garments be of any more use to him, since he is normally attired with camel’s hair and a leather girdle about his waist? Such food and such clothing are the provision of those who look for no other dwelling than a prison; for this will be the place of residence of those who preach the truth. Sycophants and self-interested people, that is, those who are passionate in their pursuit of money and of sumptuous living, you will find them and their yearning in the palaces of princes and kings. This clearly proves that those who conduct an ascetic, non-indulgent and penitential life, and who declare the truth in all its clarity, free from alteration, without deception or blandishments, must stay away from the royal courts and from the palaces of self-gratifying, conceited, grandiose and pleasure seeking individuals.
The affirmation which Truth Itself conveyed to John the Baptist, affirming that he was much more than a prophet, distinguished him above all other prophets, because, whilst other prophets had, many hundreds of years before, announced again and again the coming of Jesus, John had identified and pointed Him out as having arrived. Furthermore, he was honoured above all other prophets by the privilege bestowed upon him by baptising Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. And in order to point out to everyone the special status that John had, our Lord added: This is he of whom it is written in the prophets; ‘See, I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way;’ (Mark 1:2). Not that John had possessed an angelic nature, but that, in announcing the coming of the Saviour to us, John had performed one of the duties usually performed by one of the celestial messengers.