In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates wins a debate against the budding rhetorician Polus by calling the latter as witness against himself.
Rejecting Socrates’s contention that justice is good and beautiful, Polus attempts to defend the sophisticated view that, despite its ugliness, injustice is useful in helping us to acquire whatever we desire.
When pressed, Polus cannot uphold this distinction. Since beauty itself is supremely desirable, what use is there in satisfying our lusts at the expense of becoming repulsive to ourselves?
If the unjust man cannot bear to live with himself, Polus must admit, then justice is a precondition of happiness.
Christ takes a similar tack when confronted with those unsure whether to follow him.
To the disciples of John the Baptist, who doubt his messiahship, he points out that by his hand “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again,” and “the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Mt. 11:5).
By nature, we know sight, ambulation, integrity, hearing, life, and hope to be good things. What more can we desire than him who has all these at his command?
To the fickle multitudes, recently flocking to the Baptist, Christ proposes a similar introspection. What went they out to see? Not “a reed shaken with the wind”; not “a man clothed in soft garments” (Mt. 11:7-8).
Though we are often carried away by the gusts of popular opinion and seduced by the comforts of material prosperity, we cannot truly admire those who allow these apparent goods to take the place of higher things.
As the herald of Christ, the Baptist’s appeal is a sign that what we truly desire is nothing but the Way, the Truth, and the Life himself.
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