Why the Least Is Greater

By Chuck Alley

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 11:2-15

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15Let anyone with ears listen!”


How can it be that the least citizen in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest prophet of God?

Those of the world are those who are “born of women,” while those of the kingdom are born into the kingdom through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-6). As a result, to be the greatest “among those born of women” still requires one to be born of the Spirit to have citizenship in the kingdom of heaven in this life. Although John prophesied the coming of the Messiah and saw the initiation of the messianic age, he did not live to see the full revelation of the kingdom through the death and resurrection of the Son. Like the prophets and great men of God before Jesus, John was commended for his faith, but did not receive in this life the revelation of the promised kingdom (Heb. 11:13).

As John announced the coming of the Anointed One, our repentance announces our desire to submit to God and become citizens of his kingdom. But if we stop with repentance of our sins, we will stop with the baptism of John and at the threshold of entry into the kingdom. Kingdom citizenship is about a reconciled relationship with God, and not only an adherence to his righteous laws. This is only available through grace by faith. We submit ourselves to God’s will so that we might be recreated by God as children of God and citizens of the kingdom. We can only be citizens of the kingdom of heaven through a new birth, by “water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). As St. Paul wrote: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ… (2 Cor. 5:17-18).

Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.

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Today we pray for:

The Episcopal Church and the Most Rev. Michael Curry
Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Irving, Texas


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