And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John,
What went you out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
Read Chapter 11
Gregory The Dialogist
He did not expect assent to this but denial. As soon as a slight breeze blows on a reed it bends away. What does the reed represent if not an unspiritual soul? As soon as it is touched by praise or slander, it turns in every direction. If a slight breeze of commendation comes from someone’s mouth, it is cheerful and proud, and it bends completely, so to speak, toward being pleasant. But if a gust of slander comes from the source from which the breeze of praise was coming, it is quickly turned in the opposite direction, toward raving anger. John was no reed, shaken by the wind. No one’s pleasant attitude made him agreeable, and no one’s anger made him bitter.
Wherefore did ye leave your cities, and your houses, and come together all of you into the wilderness? To see a pitiful and flexible kind of person? Nay, this were out of all reason, this is not what is indicated by that earnestness, and the concourse of all men unto the wilderness. So much people and so many cities would not have poured themselves out with so great zeal towards the wilderness and the river Jordan at that time, had ye not expected to see some great and marvellous one, one firmer than any rock. Yea, it was not a reed surely, that ye went out to see shaken by the wind: for the flexible and such as are lightly brought round, and now say one thing, now another, and stand firm in nothing, are most like that.
And see how He omits all wickedness, and mentions this, which then especially haunted them; and removes the suspicion of lightness.
For the matter indeed of John's disciples had been ordered well, and they had gone away assured by the miracles which had just been performed; but there was need after that of remedy as regarded the people. For although they could not suspect anything of the kind of their own master, the common people might from the inquiry of John's disciples form many strange suspicions, not knowing the mind with which he sent his disciples. And it was natural for them to reason with themselves, and say, He that bore such abundant witness, has he now changed his persuasion, and does he doubt whether this or another be He that should come? Can it be, that in dissension with Jesus he says this? That the prison has made him more timid? That his former words were spoken vainly, and at random? It being then natural for them to suspect many such things, see how He corrects their weakness, and removes these their suspicions. For as they departed, He began to say to the multitudes. Why, as they departed? Tha...
Why “as they went away”? That he might not seem to be flattering John. And in correcting John’s disciples, Jesus does not broadcast their suspicion. He merely provides a remedy for the thoughts that were mentally disturbing them. This made it clear to them that he knew the secrets of all. For he did not say, as he might have to the other religious leaders, “Why are you thinking evil?” For if John’s disciples had doubt in their minds it was not out of wickedness but out of ignorance. So Jesus does not rebuke them but merely corrects their understanding. He then defends John, signifying that he had not fallen away from his former confidence, nor had he changed his mind. For John was not a man easily swayed and fickle but steadfast and sure. He was far from being such as to betray the things committed to him. The Gospel of Matthew, Homily
Perhaps the multitudes heard John’s question and were scandalized that even John himself might be unsure of Christ and had so quickly changed his opinion, although he had previously borne witness to Him. Christ allays this suspicion, then, by saying, John is not a reed, that is, one who changes easily. For if he were, why would you have gone out to him in the wilderness? You indeed would not have gone out to see a reed, a changeable man, but you went out to see a great and steadfast man. To be sure, he is still now what you thought him to be then.