Meditation: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God? Jesus praised John the Baptist as the greatest person born. Who can top that as a compliment? But in the same breath Jesus says that the least in the kingdom of God is even greater than John! That sounds like a contradiction, right? Unless you understand that what Jesus was about to accomplish for our sake would supersede all that the prophets had done and foreseen.
"Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel"
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed to the forsaken and dispersed people of Israel some 700 years before the birth of Christ that "your Redeemer - the Holy One of Israel" would come to restore his people and to make all things new (Isaiah 41:14ff). When the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel did appear John the Baptist announced his arrival. He fulfilled the essential task of all the prophets - to be fingers pointing to Jesus Christ, God's Anointed Son and Messiah. John proclaimed Jesus' mission at the Jordan River when he exclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). John saw from a distance what Jesus would accomplish through his death on the cross - our redemption from bondage to sin and death and our adoption as sons and daughters of God and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
The spirit of Elijah is sent in advance through John's words
John the Baptist bridges the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets who point the way to the Messiah. He is the first of the New Testament witnesses and martyrs. He is the herald who prepares the way for Jesus the Messiah. Jesus confirms that John has fulfilled the promise that Elijah would return to herald the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5). Jesus declares that John is nothing less that the great herald whose privilege it was to announce the coming of the Redeemer - the Holy One of Israel.
Jesus equates the coming of the kingdom of heaven with violence (Matthew 11:12). John himself suffered violence for announcing that the kingdom of God was near. He was thrown into prison and then beheaded. Since John's martyrdom to the present times the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and persecution at the hands of violent men. The blood of the martyrs throughout the ages bear witness to this fact. The martyrs witness to the truth - the truth and love of Jesus Christ who shed his blood to redeem us from slavery to sin and Satan and the fear of death. The Lord Jesus gives us the power of his Holy Spirit to overcome fear with faith, despair with hope, and every form of hatred, violence, jealousy, and prejudice with love and charity towards all - even those who seek to destroy and kill.
We proclaim the joy of the Gospel of Christ even in the midst
of suffering and violence
God may call some of us to be martyrs for our faith in Jesus Christ. But for most of us our call is to be dry martyrs who bear testimony to the joy of the Gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord Jesus. What attracts others to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? When they see Christians loving their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear our adversaries. He will fill us with the power of his Holy Spirit and give us sufficient grace, strength, and wisdom to face any trial and to answer any challenge to our faith. Are you eager to witness to the joy and freedom of the Gospel?
"Lord Jesus, by your cross you have redeemed the world. Fill me with joy and confidence and make me a bold witness of your saving truth that others may know the joy and freedom of the Gospel of your kingdom of peace and righteousness."
This reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager, whose website is located at: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/