Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, one of the greatest Saints of our Church.
In Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus himself tell his disciples that there is no person greater than John (Luke 7:28). But Jesus immediately follows up this statement by telling us that anyone born into the Kingdom of God is greater than John (Luke 7:28). And this is what gives us hope. Jesus is telling us that if we live like John – with our eyes focused on the things of heaven – we can be just as great as John.
So let’s take a moment to consider the life of John the Baptist.
John’s mission, and the purpose of his entire life, was to prepare people for Christ, “called from birth” (Isaiah 49:1) for this purpose.
And John was faithful to his calling. He lived a life of austerity, detachment, self-denial, and humility – all of which allowed him to “grow strong in Spirit” (Luke 1:80). Through his words and actions, John emphasized repentance for sins, transformation of hearts, and a turning back to God. And then he pointed to Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, making Jesus known just as Jesus was to embark on his ministry.
While others wanted to proclaim John’s greatness as a prophet, John would have none of that. John insisted that he was not even worthy to unstrap Jesus’ sandals (Luke 3:16). And once Jesus arrived on the scene, John insisted that his role now needed to “decrease” while Jesus’ work would “increase” (John 3:30).
John did not look for the approval of the religious leaders of his day, nor did he bow to those in power. John’s faithfulness to God, his laser-like focus on his mission, and his willingness to challenge the status quo and the conventions of his time show us his courage – a courage based on his trust in God.
So we see that John provides us a great model to emulate.
Just like John was “called from birth”, so are we. Just as John was the precursor of Christ, we are also called to be precursors. Like John we are called to prepare the way for Jesus, and to make him known to others. Like John we are called to do this by both our words and our actions. We are called to proclaim the good news courageously and – as Pope Benedict XVI says – with “prophetic fervor” even if it goes against this world’s convention. We are called like John to serve others and live our lives in a way that reflects God’s light and love.
The mission that God bestowed on John is the same for us. And maybe the best way to honor John is to recommit ourselves to this mission and to model ourselves after him.
Like John we can strive for holiness by taking on the virtues of humility, detachment, and selflessness. Anything that separates us from God – our pride, our egos, our insecurities, our focus on material things, our sinfulness – must “decrease” while we allow Jesus to “increase” in us. We must allow Jesus to fill up the whole of our existence.
Today we honor John the Baptist and we ask God to help us emulate John as we continue John’s mission of evangelizing hearts.