“What will this child turn out to be?” they wondered. The name, John means God is merciful, or gift of God.


There are no greater birthdays in all of history to compare with those of John in today’s feast and the birth of Jesus which we celebrate six months from now. Two cousins, bound together in the great rescue mission of redemption! The greatness of John the Baptist is seen in the great emphasis given to the announcement of his birth and the event itself: both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. Except for Mary, no one had the highest function in the unfolding of salvation. Yet, the least in the kingdom, Jesus said, is greater than John the Baptist, for the gift of salvation that God gives. John challenges us Christians to the fundamental attitude of Christianity—total dependence on the Father, in Christ.  The attractiveness as well as the austerity of John, his fierce courage in denouncing evil—all stem from his fundamental and total placing of his life within the will of God.  Jesus told His followers that His cousin, John the Baptist, was the greatest man born of woman. This feast clearly shows his “claim to fame,” for John spent his whole life preparing the people of Israel for the mission of Jesus. The world would never be the same again.

Those present at the naming of John the Baptist realized that he was special, but they had no idea what he would turn out to be. Babies have limitless potential. When they are born we have no idea what they will grow up to become, but we are filled with hope for the best future for them.  And yet, many children throughout the world are prevented from reaching their full potential due to poverty.

The first reading from Isaiah is one of four “Suffering Servant” songs that foretell the coming of the Messiah. Besides prophesying the birth of Jesus, this reading can also be applied to John the Baptist. The names of both John and Jesus were determined before their birth. Both were in their mother’s wombs when John “leaped for joy” at the presence of Jesus. John’s preaching of repentance in the desert prepared the way for the “light of the nations” to bring salvation to all the world.  In the Gospel of Luke today, we learn of God’s special providence in the circumstances of John’s birth, and how God used John’s father, Zechariah, as His special prophet. In the beautiful hymn, the Benedictus (skipped over in today’s selection), Zechariah connects his son’s future mission with that of Moses, who told of God’s promises to bring salvation to all peoples.

John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life. His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). As Jesus grew in favor before the people, John could see that his work was coming to a close. In humility, he helped his own followers attach themselves to Jesus by declaring, “Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet.” In our second reading, St. Luke quotes St. Paul as using this statement of John in his own preaching of the Good News.

As confirmed followers of Jesus, we, too, are commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the Good News. In order that society may pay better attention to what we say and do, it is very necessary for us to be seen as people of prayer, reflection, and faith, courageous in speaking about and living our faith. The interests of Jesus Christ must come before our own.

 

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