Ver 2. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,3. And said unto him, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”4. Jesus answered and said unto them, “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:5. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.6. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
Gloss, non occ.: The Evangelist had shewn above how by Christ’s miracles and teaching, both His disciples and the multitudes had been instructed; he now shews how this instruction had reached even to John’s disciples, so that they seemed to have some jealousy towards Christ; “John, when he had heard in his bonds the works of Christ, sent two of his disciples to say unto him, Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?
Greg., Hom in Ev. vi. 1: We must enquire how John, who is a prophet and more than a prophet, who made known the Lord when He came to be baptized, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sine of the world! — why, when he was afterwards cast into prison, he should send his disciples to ask, “Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?”
Did he not know Him whom he had pointed out to others; or was he uncertain whether this was He, whom by foretelling, by baptizing, and by making known, he had proclaimed to be He?
Ambrose, Ambros., in Luc 7:19: Some understand it thus; That it was a great thing that John should be so far a prophet, as to acknowledge Christ, and to preach remission of sin; but that like a pious prophet; he could not think that He whom he had believed to be He that should come, was to suffer death; he doubted therefore though not in faith, yet in love. So Peter also doubted, saying, “This be far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee.” [Mat_16:22]
Chrys.: But this seems hardly reasonable. For John was not in ignorance of His death, but was the first to preach it, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh. away the sins of the world.” For thus calling Him the Lamb, he plainly shews forth the Cross; and no otherwise than by the Cross did He take away the sins of the world. Also how is he a greater prophet than these, if he knew not those things which all the prophets knew; for Isaiah says, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.” [Isa_53:7]
Greg.: But this question may be answered in a better way if we attend to the order of time. At the waters of Jordan he had affirmed that this was the Redeemer of the world: after he was thrown into prison, he enquires if this was He that should come — not that he doubted that this was the Redeemer of the world, but he asks that he may know whether He who in His own person had come into the world, would in His own person descend also to the world below.
Jerome: Hence he frames his question thus, “Art thou he that is to come?” Not, Art Thou He that hast come? And the sense is, Direct me, since I am about to go down into the lower parts of the earth, whether I shall announce Thee to the spirits beneath also; or whether Thou as the Son of God may not taste death, but will send another to this sacrament?
Chrys.: But is this a more reasonable explanation than the other? for why then did he not say, Art Thou He that is coming to the world beneath? and not simply, “Art thou he that is to come?”
And the reason of his seeking to know, namely, that he might preach Him there, is even ridiculous. For the present life is the time of grace, and after death the judgment and punishment; therefore there was no need of a forerunnner thither. Again, if the unbelievers who should believe after death should be saved, then none would perish; all would then repent and worship; “for every knee shall bow, both of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth.” [Phi_2:10]
Gloss, non occ.: But it ought to be observed, that Jerome and Gregory did not say that John was to proclaim Christ’s coming to the world beneath, to the end that the unbelievers there might be converted to the faith, but that the righteous who abode in expectation of Christ, should be comforted by His near approach.
Hilary: It is indeed certain, that he who as forerunner proclaimed Christ’s coming, as prophet knew Him when He stood before him, and worshipped Him as Confessor when He came to him, could not fall into error from such abundant knowledge. Nor can it be believed that the grace of the Holy Spirit failed him when thrown into prison, seeing He should hereafter minister the light of His power to the Apostles when they were in prison.
Jerome: Therefore he does not ask as being himself ignorant. But as the Saviour asks where Lazarus is buried, [margin note Joh_11:23] in order that they who shewed Him the sepulchre might be so far prepared for faith, and believe that the dead was verily raised again — so John, about to be put to death by Herod, sends his disciples to Christ, that by this opportunity of seeing His signs and wonders they might believe on Him, and so might learn through their master’s enquiry.
But John’s disciples had somewhat of bitterness and jealousy towards the Lord, as their former enquiry shewed, “Why do thee and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?
Chrys.: Yet whilst John was with them he held them rightly convinced concerning Christ. But when he was going to die, he was more concerned on their behalf. For he feared that he might leave his disciples a prey to some pernicious doctrine, and that they should remain separate from Christ, to whom it had been his care to bring all his followers from the beginning.
Had he said to them, Depart from me, for He is better than me, he would not have prevailed with them, as they would have supposed that he spoke this in humility, which opinion would have drawn them more closely to him. What then does he? He waits to hear through them that Christ works miracles.
Nor did he send all, but two only, (whom perhaps he chose as more ready to believe than the rest,) that the reason of his enquiry might be unsuspected, and that from the things themselves which they should see they might understand the difference between him and Jesus.
Hilary: John then is providing not for his own, but his disciples’ ignorance; that they might know that it was no other whom he had proclaimed, he sent them to see His works, that the works might establish what John had spoken; and that they should not look for any other Christ, than Him to whom His works had borne testimony.
Chrys.: So also Christ as knowing the mind of John, said not, I am He; for thus He would have put an obstacle in the way of those that heard Him, who would have at least thought within themselves, if they did not say, what the Jews did say to Christ, “Thou bearest witness of thyself.” [Joh_6:13]
Therefore He would have them learn from His miracles, and so presented His doctrine to them more clear, and without suspicion. For the testimony of deeds is stronger than the testimony of words. Therefore He straightway healed a number of blind, and lame, and many other, for the sake not of John who had knowledge, but of others who doubted; as it follows, “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and tell John what ye have heard and seen; The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”
Jerome: This last is no less than the first. And understand it as if it had been said, Even “the poor;” that so between noble and mean, rich and poor, there may be no difference in preaching. This approves the strictness of the master, this the truth of the teacher, that in His sight every one who can be saved is equal.
Chrys.: “And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me,” is directed against the messengers; they were offended in Him. But He not publishing their doubts, and leaving it to their conscience alone, thus privately introduced a refutation of them.
Hilary: This saying, that they were blessed from whom there should be no offence in Him, shewed them what it was that John had provided against in sending them. For John, through fear of this very thing, had sent his disciples that they might hear Christ.
Greg., Hom in Ev., vi. 1: Otherwise; The mind of unbelievers was greatly offended concerning Christ, because after many miracles done, they saw Him at length put to death; whence Paul speaks, “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block.” [1Co_1:23]
What then does that mean, “Blessed is he who shall not be offended in me,” but a direct allusion to the humiliation of His death; as much as to say, I do indeed wonderful works, but do not disdain to suffer humble things, Because then I follow you in death, men must be careful not to despise in Me My death, while they reverence My wonderful works.
Hilary: In these things which were done concerning John, there is a deep store of mystic meaning. The very condition and circumstances of a prophet are themselves a prophecy.
John signifies the Law; for the Law proclaimed Christ, preaching remission of sins, and giving promise of the kingdom of heaven. Also when the Law was on the point of expiring, (having been, through the sins of the people, which hindered them from understanding what it spake of Christ, as it were shut up in bonds and in prison,) it sends men to the contemplation of the Gospel, that unbelief might see the truth of its words established by deeds.
Ambrose: And perhaps the two disciples sent are the two people; those of the Jews, and those of the Gentiles who believed.
Ver 7. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?8. But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.9. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.10. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.”
Chrys., Hom xxxvii: Sufficient had been now done for John’s disciples; they returned certified concerning Christ by the wonderful works which they had seen. But it behoved that the multitude also should be corrected, which had conceived many things amiss from the question of John’s disciples, not knowing the purpose of John in sending them. They might say, He who bare such witness to Christ, is now of another mind, and doubts whether this be He. Doth he this because he hath jealousy against Jesus! Has the prison taken away his courage? Or spake he before but empty and untrue words?
Hilary: Therefore that this might not lead them to think of John as though he were offended concerning Christ, it continues, “When they had gone away, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes concerning John.”
Chrys.: “As they departed,” that He should not seem to speak flattery of the man; and in correcting the error of the multitude, He does not openly expose their secret suspicions, but by framing his words against what was in their hearts, He shews that He knows hidden things. But He said not as to the Jews, “Why think ye evil in your hearts? though indeed it was evil that they had thought; yet it proceeded not from wickedness, but from ignorance; there- fore He spake not to them harshly, but answered for John, shewing that he had not fallen from his former opinion. This He teaches them, not by His word only, but by theirown witness, the witness of their own actions, as well as their own words.
“What went ye out into the wilderness to see?” As much as to say, Why did ye leave the towns and go out into the wilderness? So great multitudes would not have gone with such haste into the desert, if they had not thought that they should see one great, and wonderful, one more stable than the rock.
Pseudo-Chrys.: They had not gone out at this time into the desert to see John, for he was not now in the deaert, but in prison; but He speaks of the past time while John was yet in the desert, and the people flocked to him.
Chrys.: And note that making no mention of any other fault, He clears John of fickleness, which the multitude had suspected him of, saying, “A reed shaken by the wind?”
Greg., Hom in Ev. vi. 2: This He proposes, not to assert, but to deny. For if but a breath of air touch a reed, it bends it one way or other; a type of the carnal mind, which leans to either side, according as the breath of praise or detraction reaches it.
A reed shaken by the wind John was not, for no variety of circumstance bent him from his uprightness. The Lord’s meaning then is,
Jerome: Was it for this ye went out into the desert to see a man like unto a reed, and carried about by every wind, so that in lightness of mind he doubts concerning Him whom once he preached? Or it may be he is roused against Me by the sting of envy, and he seeks empty honour by his preaching, that he may thereof make gain. Why should he covet wealth? that he may have dainty fare? But his food is locusts and wild honey. That he may wear soft raiment? But his clothing is camel’s hair. This is that He adds, “But what went ye out for to see a man clothed in soft raiment?
Chrys.: Otherwise; That John is not as a waving reed, yourselves have shewn by going out unto the desert to him. Nor can any say that John was once firm, but has since become wilful and wavering; for as some are prone to anger by natural disposition, others become so by long weakness and indu1gence, so in inconstancy, some are by nature inconstant, some become so by yielding to their own humour and self-indulgence. But John was neither inconstant by natural disposition; this he means by saying, “What went ye out for to see, a reed shaken by the wind?” Neither had he corrupted an excellent nature by self-indulgence, for that he had not served the flesh is shewn by his raiment, his abode in the desert, his prison. Had he sought soft raiment, he would not have dwelt in the desert, but in kings’ houses; “Lo they that are clothed in soft raiment, are in kings’ houses.”
Jerome: This teaches that an austere life and strict preaching ought to shun kings’ courts and the palaces of the rich and luxurious.
Greg., Hom in Ev., vi., 3: Let no one suppose that there is nothing sinful in luxury and rich dress; if pursuit of such things had been blameless, the Lord would not have thus commended John for the coarseness of his raiment, nor would Peter have checked the desire of fine clothes in women as he does, “Not in costly raiment.” [1Pe_3:3]
Aug., Doctr. Christ., iii, 12: In all such things we blame not the use of the things, but the lust of those that use them. For whoever uses the good things in his reach more sparingly than are the habits of those with whom he lives, is either temperate or superstitious. Whoever again uses them in a measure exceeding the practice of the good among whom he lives, either has some [margin note: aliquid] meaning therein, or else is dissolute.
Chrys.: Having described his habits of life from his dwelling-place, his dress, and the concourse of men to hear him, He now brings in that he is also a prophet, “But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.”
Greg, Hom. in Ev., vi. 5: The office of a prophet is to foretel things to come, not to shew them present. John therefore is more than a prophet, because Him whom he had foretold by going before Him, the same he shewed as present by pointing Him out.
Jerome: In this he is also greater than the other prophets, that to his prophetic privilege is added the reward of the Baptist that he should baptize his Lord.
Chrys.: Then he shews in what respect He is greater, saying, “This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my angel before thy face.”
Jerome: To add to this great worthiness of John, He brings a passage from Malachias, in which he is spoken of as an Angel. [ref Mal_3:1] We must suppose that John is here called an Angel, not as partaking the Angelic nature, but from the dignity of his office as a forerunner of the Lord.
Greg.: For the Greek word Angel, is in Latin Nuntius, ‘a messenger.’ He therefore who came to bear a heavenly message is rightly called an Angel, that he may preserve in his title the dignity which he performs in his office.
Chrys.: He shews wherein it is that John is greater than the Prophets, namely, in that he is nigh unto Christ, as he says, “I send before thy face,” that is, near Thee, as those that walk next to the king’s chariot are more illustrious than others, so likewise is John because of his nearness to Christ.Pseudo-Chrys.: Also the other Prophets were sent to announce Christ’s coming, but John to prepare His way, as it follows, “who shall make ready thy way before thee;”
Gloss, interlin.: That is, shall open the hearts of Thy hearers by preaching repentance and baptizing.
Jerome: Mystically; The desert is that which is deserted of the Holy Spirit, where there is no habitation of God; in the reed is signified a man who in outward show lives a pious life, but lacks all real fruit within himself, fair outside, within hollow, moved with every breath of wind, that is, with every impulse of unclean spirits, having no firmness to remain still, devoid of the marrow of the soul; by the garment wherewith his body is clothed is his mind shewn, that it is lost in luxury and self-indulgence. The kings are the fallen angels; they are they who are powerful in this life, and the lords of this world. Thus, “They that are clothed in soft raiment are in kings’ houses;” that is, those whose bodies are enervated and destroyed by luxury, it is clear are possessed by demons.
Greg.: Also John was not “clothed in soft raiment,” that is, he did not encourage sinners in their sinful life by speaking smooth things, but rebuked them with sharpness and rigour, saying, “Generation of vipers, &c.” [Mat_3:7]
Ver 11. “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Chrys.: Having first delivered the Prophet’s testimony in praise of John, He rested not there, but added His own decision respecting him, saying, “Among them that are born of women there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.”
Raban.: As much as to say; What need to recount one by one the praises of John the Baptist; “I say verily unto you, Among them that are born of women, &c.” He says women, not virgins. If the same word, mulier, which denotes a married person, is any where in the Gospels applied to Mary, it should be known that the translator has there used ‘ mulier’ for ‘femina;” as in that, “Woman, behold thy son!” [Joh_19:26]
Jerome: He is then set before all those that are born in wedlock, and not before Him who was born of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit; yet these words, “there has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist,” do not imply that John is to be set above the Prophets and Patriarchs and all others, but only makes him equal to the rest; for it does not follow that because others are not greater than him, that therefore he is greater than others.
Pseudo-Chrys.: But seeing that righteousness has so great deepness that none can be perfect therein but God only, I suppose that all the saints tried by the keenness of the divine judgment, rank in a fixed order, some lower, some before other. Whence we understand that He that hath none greater than Himself, is greater than all.
Chrys.: That the abundance of this praise might not beget a wrong inclination in the Jews to set John above Christ, he corrects this, saying, “He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Aug., Cont. Adv. Leg. et Proph., ii, 5: The heretic [margin note: Manichee or Marcionite] argues from this verse to prove that since John did not belong to the kingdom of heaven, therefore much less did the other Prophets of that people, than whom John is greater. But these words of the Lord may be understood in two ways. Either the kingdom of heaven is something which we have not yet received, that, namely, of which He speaks, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom,” [Mat_25:34] because they in it are Angels, therefore the least among them is greater than a righteous man who has a corruptible body. Or if we must understand the kingdom of heaven of the Church, whose children are all the righteous men from the beginning of the world until now, then the Lord speaks this of Himself, who was after John in the time of His birth, but greater in respect of His divine nature and supreme power. According then to the first interpretation it will be pointed, “He who is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he;” according to the second, “He who is less than he, is in the kingdom of heaven greater than he.”
Chrys.: The kingdom of heaven, that is, in the spiritual world, and all relating thereto. But some say that Christ spoke this of the Apostles.
Jerome: We understand it simply, that every saint who is already with the Lord is greater than he who yet stands in the battle; for it is one thing to have gained the crown of victory, another to be yet fighting in the field.