How great is John the Baptist?
Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11)
There are two parts in this statement. The first part is: among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist. When Jesus said this, he was talking to the people about John the Baptist in relation to the prophets; He said: “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.” (Matthew 11:7-10) Therefore, when Jesus said that “among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist,” it is quite reasonable to think that Jesus was praising John above all the other prophets.
John the Baptist was chosen by God to be the forerunner to Christ; his mission was to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s ministry was prophesied in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. When Jesus came to the Jordan River, John proclaimed Him to the world as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:35–36). In 430 years since the prophet Malachi, there was no prophet until John the Baptist; he was the last in the long line of prophets who predicted Christ, and he was the only one who actually saw Christ in the flesh. No other prophet had that privilege.
The second part is: the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. The problem with taking this statement literally is that it could be interpreted that in the hierarchy of the saints in heaven today, John the Baptist is the least. But that is highly improbable because didn’t Jesus just say that there is no prophet greater than John? Then how could John be the least in heaven?
Jesus wasn’t talking about John’s position in the hierarchy of saints in heaven at all. Rather, Jesus was making the point that even the very least who are currently in heaven, are greater than the greatest who are currently on earth. Therefore, while John was still alive on earth, even if he is the greatest prophet of all time, he cannot be greater than those who are already in heaven. Of course, after John was beheaded by Herod and after he gained the martyr’s crown, he would then take his rightful place in the hierarchy of the saints in heaven.
The Roman Catholic Church gives us four different Masses to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ: the Vigil Mass, Mass during the Night, Mass at Dawn and Mass during the Day. Originally, the Church celebrated Christmas only with the Mass during the Day, using the Prologue of the Gospel of John for the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” (John 1:1) The Gospel of John makes no mention of a manger, angels, shepherds or even the baby Jesus. Rather, John’s Gospel emphasizes the Word through whom all things came into being, who now is with us and among us in human flesh. It is a profound reflection on the significance of the Incarnation and on the identity of the child born in the city of David, the Savior who is Christ and Lord. (Luke 2:11) In contrast to the Mass during the Day with its theological reflection on the meaning of the Incarnation, the Mass during the Night makes use of the infancy narratives, specifically from the Gospel of Luke.
The Midnight Mass was the first Christmas Mass celebrated at the Holy Name of Jesus Chinese Catholic Mission when it opened three years ago. The tradition of the Midnight Mass continues to be celebrated each year on December 24th. This particular Mass during the Night brings out a sense of tranquility and solemnity far apart from the busy hustle and bustle of buying Christmas gifts and planning parties. The sound of Christmas hymns, the smell of incense, the procession and the devotion of the people to the infant Jesus makes this celebration so special. The Midnight Mass liturgy doesn’t just tell the story of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ; it becomes a moving experience which draws out a faith-filled response from the faithful to the Gospel’s proclamation of salvation and the true identity of the Christ child born in the manger.
The Holy Name of Jesus Chinese Catholic Mission offers two Masses to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord. On December 24 at 11:30 pm, the Midnight Mass will be celebrated in Chinese. On December 25 at 3:30 pm, the Mass during the Day will be celebrated in Chinese, followed by our Annual Christmas Program and Potluck. All are welcome!
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