Leave John in Jail
“Truly 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.” – Matthew 11:11 (NRSV)
John the Baptist is in jail. From his cell, he sends messengers to Jesus to find out if he’s the Messiah. After answering them, Jesus pays glowing tribute to John. He’s “the greatest man who’s ever lived.” When the emissaries report Jesus’ reply, surely they also convey this praise.
Alone in jail, it warms John to hear how much Jesus admires him. But it also stings. Those words are like a eulogy over John’s ministry. God is doing something new now, and John isn’t needed. He’s great, but the world won’t flock to him anymore. He’s in jail, and Jesus leaves him there and moves on.
Leaving John in jail is hard. To turn from a great man, a great ministry, and past glory seems heartless. But if you don’t tear yourself away, you’ll miss what the Spirit does next. There are always good reasons to hold onto the past, but the gospel is a Word in forward motion. It won’t let us live backwards into what was or might have been. We have to leave John in jail and go on.
Leaving things behind is a path to life. So that we might have it abundantly, the Child we welcomed at Christmas left heaven for a stable, left his parents in the temple, left John in jail, made disciples leave their nets, and let the dead bury the dead. Hand to the plow, he didn’t look back.
He’s headed to tomorrow. On the eve of a new year, leave John in jail and follow him.
O Child of God’s tomorrow, help me leave all my Johns in jail and go with you into a brand-new day.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.