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Was John the Baptist humble? (Matthew chap. 3, verses 13-14)

Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?

Proceeding from Galilee, Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. In the society in which Jesus lived, honor and respect were kept to the fore. Therefore, one like Jesus hadn’t go to a “punk” like John to be baptized. He therefore renounces this right and accepts to submit to John. According to the categories just described by John (see vv 7-12), Jesus was the only man who at the same time did not need to be baptized, but also the only candidate who fulfilled John’s requirements for being baptized .

The rhythm of Matthew’s text is fast and schematic. Jesus does not have time to lose because he knows that he has to perform his tasks the Father entrusted him.

John recognizes Jesus, also if Jesus doesn’t say any word. It may be that John recognizes Jesus because he is inspired by the Spirit. At any rate John’s request interrupts the narrative flow. It seems that John’s objection is motivated by a sense of inferiority with Jesus. But is this true humility? I think that John will show to be humble only when he will baptize Jesus. The heroic figure of John the Baptist is vexed of doubts and uncertainties. The same doubts we have in the face of the great moments of history that sometimes  don’t appear as we would like.

But John’s question also reflects the thought of the first christians, i.e. christians belonging to the community of Matthew. For them, Jesus’ superiority was absolute with respect to John, who was a simple prophet. Therefore the renunciation of the honor that he owed to him places Jesus in a state of true humility. The humility which distinguishes Jesus Christ and Lord, worshiped as God by christians.

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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