I continue to read and study Origen and I was recently impressed with his spiritual interpretation of the words of Saint John the Baptist regarding Christ:
“I baptize with water, but in the midst of you stands one whom you know not, even He who comes after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.” (Jn 1:26)
According to Origen, John the Baptist is here confessing his amazement over the incarnation of the Divine Logos. Origen interprets:
…he goes on: The latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. By which he conveys, as in a riddle, that he is not fit to solve and to explain the argument about Christ’s assuming a human body, an argument tied up and hidden (like a shoe-tie) to those who do not understand it—so as to say anything worthy of such an advent, compressed, as it was, into so short a space. (Origen, Commentary on John, Book 6, Ch. 15)
Origen holds that John the Baptist indicates that he can cannot untie the mysterious knot that the Logos can possess a physical body by which to fill a shoe or sandal.
How wonderful and mysterious that the eternal Son of God became man? He came not only to wear a simple shoe on his incarnate foot, but also to receive the cleansing baptism of water in the Jordan River upon his anointed body. And even more to die on a cross and rise again.
John the Baptist is stunned. It is as if John the Baptist might say: “Look guys. I’m the last prophet of the Old Testament and I’m not worthy to untie the mystery of His incarnation. I’ll leave that the next seven Ecumenical Councils to untie over time.
While Origen is not a saint and not a doctor of the Church (and has some theological oddities), his exegesis is fascinating and helpful. Even in something in small as the shoe-latchet saying of John, he has something beautiful to draw out. As we say in Texas: That’ll preach.