Sunday, August 28, 2016

No One Greater

I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. 1 COR 2:3-5

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.  Mark 6:29

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). 

In our first reading, we hear St. Paul experience the contrast of human wisdom with the power of God (i.e. the wisdom of the Cross). He has little of the former and much of the later.  If St. John had more of the former, he might not have stuck his neck out so far criticizing the king who had control over John’s freedom and mortal life.

However, John was not to be deterred by the apparent power that Herod thought he had.  In fact, John becomes the final prophet to foreshadow the death of the Messiah. St, Mark, in this reading, makes those similarities between the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist and that of the passion of Jesus explicit:
  • Herod and Pilate acknowledge the holiness of life of one over whom he unjustly exercises the power of condemnation and death.
  •  The hatred of Herodias toward John parallels that of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus.
  •  After the deaths of John and of Jesus, well-disposed persons request the bodies of the victims of Herod and of Pilate in turn to give them a respectful burial.[i]
John was so significant in salvation history that his birth was actually also foretold in the Hebrew Bible twice -- once by the Prophet Malachi and then by Isaiah: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.” (Isaiah 40:3)

When John bursts on the adult scene, he shows us how to stand firm in our faith no matter what the circumstances.

Paul reminded Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” [F]or many of us who live in freedom, persecution takes on a very mild form. As [John] lived in an occupied country, he had to be aware that anything contrary to utter devotion to the king or emperor was asking for trouble. Yet his message was unchanging, bold and strong. It was John’s belief, his message, and his continual rebuke of King Herod that landed him in prison. While it is hard to know for sure what John was feeling as he sat in prison, we can be sure that he might have had some doubts about the Lord who tested his faith. In fact, John gets a message out to Jesus asking, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" As Christians, we all will have our faith put to the test, and we will either falter in our faith or, like John, cling to Christ and stand firm in our faith to the end.[ii]

John provides the pre-Christ lesson in humility.  Humility stems from understanding who God is and who we are.  To better understand how to be grounded in God and in good, it might help to understand the origin of the word humility/humble.  The Latin word “humus” means ground.  “Humilis” is low or lowly.  When we remain close to the ground – and do not think too highly of ourselves -- we can remember that our station in life is lower than that of God. St. John stayed so close to the ground he admitted that he was not fit to reach up and tie the sandals Jesus wore.

What does the model of John the Baptist say to our action?  Just like Jesus asked the people then, “What did you go out to the desert to see—a reed swayed by the wind?”

St. John has no problem taking on radical humility.  Can we consider doing the same as we try to advance our careers, our status in the community, our retirement savings, our seemingly endless appetite for sports, entertainment and other indulgences or more selfish pursuits?

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