December 9th, 2010 - Memorial of St. Juan Diego, Holy Man

The Gospel today is complicated, defying easy explanation.  Jesus says that there has been no one born of woman greater than John the Baptist, yet I know of two who were born of woman who are greater than John the Baptist: Jesus and Mary.  And what does greater even mean?  Greater in holiness or power or love of God or humility or wisdom or strength or prophecy?  And if the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than him, does that mean that John does not participate in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Then Jesus says that from the time of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffered violence.  In what way does the Kingdom suffer violence that it had not before John the Bapist?  Was the disrespect for God's reign increased after John preached and baptized?  Last we learn that John the Baptist is Elijah, which, taken literally, is strange since we know the story of his birth.  Elijah lived 700 years earlier and was taken up in a chariot of fire.  If John the Baptist were Elijah, we would expect that either people would have seen him come back in the chariot of fire or that no one would know where he came from.

It is possible to use tricks of language to make what Jesus has to say more understandable.  We can say that John was playing the role of Elijah and that he was the greatest human being to live without having received the Holy Spirit as we have all received it.  We can make these and many other explanations, but they cannot satisfy us.

The last words of the Gospel can guide us.  "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  Jesus speaks to us and we hear him.  We need not be surprised if there are things which Jesus says that we do not understand. There is a certain human pride which presumes that if we do not understand someone, it must be their problem.  When something is difficult to understand, we can shoehorn it into our limited understanding or dismiss it as nonsense.  We can also humbly submit that we are not capable of comprehending everything.