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Matthew 11:2-11 – The Question of John the Baptist

Summary

John the Baptist in prison sends his disciples to ask whether Jesus is really the "one who is to come." Jesus instructs them to tell John what they have "heard" and "seen" in the preaching of the good news and asserts that anyone who takes no offense at him is truly blessed.

Analysis

This is a key passage in the movement of the Gospel. With his question John the Baptist, even though being the prophetic forerunner, illustrates the potential risk of rejecting God's Messiah and so remaining outside the kingdom (11:7-11). John's question thus stands as the central question of the Gospel for Matthew's hearers and for hearers yet today. Is this Jesus whose ministry and mission is here announced really God's Messiah, or do we keep waiting for another (11:3)? Jesus' response applies the question not just to John, but to "anyone," and so the question presses the issue of faith and discipleship in response to the gospel for all.

Two key words mark Matthew's consideration of that response. The reference to "offense" is a favored way of talking about faith. The call of Jesus to follow results in either the response of disciple faith or in the "offense" in which one turns away from following this Messiah (fourteen times in Matthew; often unfortunately translated as "stumbling block" or "temptation"; see for example, 18:6, 8, 9). To recognize that one might respond in faith is once again to know oneself as the object of God's blessing (see the Beatitudes, 5:1-12; Peter's confession, 16:16-18; and the blessing of those who understand the parables of the kingdom, 13:16-17). This passage thus marks a kind of watershed in the Gospel. From now on in the narrative (chapters 11-20) we see a growing opposition to Jesus' ministry and in Jesus' turning more toward instruction of his disciples, leading up to his ministry in Jerusalem and the Passion Narrative.

Matthew 11:2-11

Messengers from John the Baptist

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah* was doing, he sent word by his* disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

Jesus Praises John the Baptist

7 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? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone* dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet?* Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way before you.”
11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

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10 February 2011

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