Monday, December 15, 2008

Another Thing about John the Baptist


It occurred to me yesterday as I was about to preach St. Matthew 11 that there's another thing I hadn't considered before.

The question of how one preaches on John the Baptist in prison may depend on what one thinks about his prenatal state, as Fr Curtis has pointed out at Gottesdienst Online, though then again it may not.

I don't happen to think John was cleansed of original sin while in the womb, as I have my own version of 'pious' speculation on how lots of that sort of that pious speculation has arisen. And yet I have preached on many occasions that John did not ask the doubting question "Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another" not for himself but for his disciples. One does not have to hold he had had his original sin removed in order to think that he did not doubt here; you need not say he could not have doubted in order to say that he did not doubt. After all, he knew full well who Jesus was, and had seen the Spirit descend on him as he baptized him. All he had to do was remember that in order to be sure.

And yet--here's the thing I hadn't considered--in John's role as forerunner, it is his office to teach the Church, not only by what he says, but by example. So therefore, what do you do when you are beset with circumstances which might produce doubt or second-thoughts? You go back to Jesus and ask him: "Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?"

That little thing provides an excellent opportunity for preaching.

7 comments:

Susan said...

So remembering is what makes us sure? And here, I was thinking that it was hearing.

I don't know about you, but I can remember all sorts of theology and the promises of God's word, and somehow the remembering does not provide the comfort that hearing it (again and again) does.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Yes, I think you are on to it, Father Eckardt. John asks for the Word of Christ to be spoken to him, by those who are sent by Christ Jesus. He asks, not only to set a good example, but because he lives by the word of Christ. He asks, as much in faith as in any doubts he may have had. In fact, I think it is precisely because he knows who Jesus is, that he asks for a Word from Jesus. And the Lord Jesus does for John what He does for all of us, pastors included: He sends men to speak what they have seen and heard from Him.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Susan:

I'm not sure juvenile comments merit a response, but here goes.

First, although I could say that the word of God, even when pondered in the heart, is a means of grace, I'm not even going to go there. Look, if I were John, and having any second thoughts, and then remembered that I had with my own eyes seen the Spirit descend on Jesus, I would most certainly be reassured. Wouldn't you be? Let's be honest.

Second, I have already said exactly what you indicate: "What do you do when you are beset with circumstances which might produce doubt or second-thoughts? You go back to Jesus and ask him." --which is to say, you go back to hear his word.

Why in the world would you take issue with me here?

Rev. Stuckwisch has it exactly right: "I think it is precisely because he knows who Jesus is, that he asks for a Word from Jesus." Precisely.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

See St. John Chrysostom on this question, whose answer agrees with yours.

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf110.iii.XXXVI.html

Susan said...

>Look, if I were John, and having any second thoughts, and then remembered that I had with my own eyes seen the Spirit descend on Jesus, I would most certainly be reassured. Wouldn't you be?

Fritz, I'm afraid I wouldn't. In fact, I seldom do. That's why I asked. I understand what Rick said: it is the faith in me (the miniscule faith) which sends me to Jesus to hear what I don't believe and to hear the word that will save me from myself.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Anastasia:

It's nice to know that St. John Chrysostom agrees with me, though I think I ought to say that the other way around . . .

Michael James Hill said...

Of course John doubted. He was a man in prison, where suffering brings doubt. The answer Our Lord gave was for him. The disciples John sent Our Lord sent back to him with Our Lord's answer. Most importantly, Our Lord defends John to the crowd that heard John's question and understood that this fiery prophet now doubted.

John the Baptizer invested all that he was in his mission and in the end finds this Christ is not the ax set against the root of the trees. His Gospel is too soft.

The real point of the text is Our Lord's love for John despite his doubt. There is Gospel. There is the affirmation that faith struggles against doubt in the same human heart. Simal justus et peccator.

Neglect John's doubt and you make him into a plaster saint, ignore his suffering and thereby degrade the suffering of the saints.

As for John being cleansed of original sin, that is simply a way of having doctrinal dialectics trump sound exegesis.