Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Thomas of Villanova

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to look for someone else?

The Gospel narrative tells of a question which John the Baptist, who was in prison, put to the Lord through his disciples. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to look for someone else?”

John himself was in no doubt about the matter. Even from his mother’s womb he had recognized Jesus, and at the Jordan he had borne his testimony; but he sent this embassy for two reasons.

In the first place, John wished to instruct his disciples. He knew that his own death was imminent and, like the good leader and teacher he was, he made provision for his disciples, to ensure that they would have a teacher and protector. He wanted to see them safe under Christ’s wing and in his care.

John’s second and paramount motive, however, was to draw attention to Christ. He knew that he had been sent to bear witness to Christ, and although he had given his testimony at the Jordan, few had accepted it.

Knowing now that his death was near he devised a profitable and very prudent plan: he would put this question to Jesus publicly and thus bring him into the limelight, so that in replying to the question Jesus would at the same time bear witness about himself, and thereby reveal himself to the people.

John knew that the Lord’s reply was bound to be very fruitful, and events proved him right.

The disciples approached Jesus, and in front of the crowd put to him the same question which the Jews had put to John. Everyone eagerly awaited his reply, for there had already been a rumor among the people that he might indeed be the Messiah.

The Lord gave no immediate answer, but delayed a little, and in their presence worked wonderful, mighty miracles.

Then he invited them, “Go and report to John what you have heard The blind are receiving their sight, the lame are walking, lepers are cleansed the deaf hear, the dead rise again, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

He did not give an answer to them in so many words, but pointed to his deeds, as much as to say, “The works that I am doing are my witness. These are the works I am performing; judge for yourself whether I am the Messiah.”

This was an admirable reply, for he not only claimed by means of his works that he was the Messiah; he also proved it.

Isaiah had uttered three prophecies about Christ.

The first was this: “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unsealed and the lame man will leap like a stag. ” (Is 35:5-6A)

The second was: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … he has sent me to announce good tidings to the poor.” (Is 61:1)

The third declared: “He will be a stone for stumbling over, and a rock of scandal as well, for both houses of Israel.” (Is 8:14)

The Lord fulfilled these prophecies before their eyes, and implicitly quoted them in his reply: the first, by saying, “The blind are receiving their sight, the lame are walking ... the deaf hear;” (Mt 11:5) the second in his claim that the good news is proclaimed to the poor; and the third by saying,“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me (Mt 11:6). ”

(Forty Gospel Homilies: PL 76, 1077)

Thomas of Villanova (1486-1555) abandoned an academic career to become in 1516 an Augustinian friar. In 1533 while provincial he sent friars to the New World.

After having declined the see of Granada, he was put under obedience to accept the archbishopric of Valencia which had been so neglected that he was excused from attending the Council of Trent.

His time and money were devoted to the poor, the sick, and ransoming captives, so that he was called the Beggar Bishop, father of the poor. His many sermons had an influence on Spanish spiritual literature.


**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson