December 9, 2021 - Changing of the Guard - A Reflection on Matthew 11:11-15

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

This is a very short passage, and it looks pretty enigmatic, almost like a riddle. Still, once you realize that John the Baptist was the last of the "old order" and Jesus would usher in a "new order," everything falls into place quickly. So, what did Jesus mean when he says that among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Quite simply, prophets before him had predicted the coming of the Messiah, but John the Baptist would actually see him and testify about him.

So why is he the least in the kingdom of heaven, then? Because although he has seen the Messiah, he still lived according to the Old Covenant. Those born after him who accepted Christ as Savior would be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. They would have seen the fulfillment of God's plan, whereas John was still looking forward to its realization. Remember, John the Baptist would die before Jesus had died and risen again.

And what did Jesus mean when he said that "from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force"? This can be confusing because of how we generally understand violence and how it is used twice in the same sentence. However, they declare two separate things, and breaking them up makes it easier to understand.

The kingdom of heaven suffers violence when those who are opposed to it attack it. In Jesus' time, these would be people like the scribes and Pharisees who did not understand John's call to repentance and opposed him and his aim to prepare the way for the Lord. The second part makes sense if one looks at the word "violent" as meaning "strength of emotion" or "forcefulness" rather than how we typically understand the term.

People like John the Baptist did not lead an easy life. Opposed to the world's ways, John led a life of mortification, penance, poverty, and austerity like the prophets before him. He was determined to enter heaven, bulldozing his way through if necessary. Things changed after Christ. As Christians, we are saved by grace but are nonetheless engaged in an unending spiritual battle. Laziness, sloth, or apathy will let us fall prey to the enemy who "prowls about like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). 

"But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13). May we be among them.