Readings: Is 49:1-6; Act 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80
Once Jesus Christ asked the crowd concerning John the Baptist, “What did you go out in the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?” could I ask you to do a thing right there? Just open your inner eyes to scan the realities of life. What do you see in the world? Is not our world in the clutches of evil? Just look at your inner world. What do you see? Look at your families. What do you see there? Look at your nations. What do you see? When we make a socio-politico-economic scan of our world, we don’t just find a reed shaken by the wind. But, we find a much larger reality and perhaps a cluster of stark realities of life – injustice, corruption, exploitation, hatred, hunger, communal violence, conflicts, division, murder, rape, oppression, displacement and marginalization of the poor and the weak. What is the source of all this evil?
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist. On this great occasion all the three readings are connected with St. John the Baptist. First reading is actually a servant song that the prophet Isaiah prophesized and it fits in well in the life and work of John the Baptist. In fact the Lord had called John before his birth. The Lord had called him by name. More about it we heard in the Gospel reading. “His name is John”, says Elizabeth. Dumbfounded Zachariah also confirms it by writing on the tablet, “His name is John”. The second reading has also a link in an attempt to highlight the character of the John. Here St. Paul, in his kerygmatic preaching, explains the humility of John the Baptist. Thus, the readings of the day highlight the personality of John the Baptist. By pondering on the life of the saint today, we may have an answer to the question raised above.
Reflecting on the life of John the Baptist, we must mark the following three points:
1) John the Baptist as Pre-cursor of Jesus: After naming of the child as John, Zachariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, gave a prophecy which is known as Canticle of Zachariah. This consists of two hymns. The first hymn speaks of the role of Jesus whereas the second hymn speaks of John’s role as pre-cursor of Jesus. Mark the line that says, “you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” And John precisely did that. He prepared the way for Jesus Christ. He preached in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2). Our role is also to do the same, viz., proclaiming a baptism of repentance.
2) John the Baptist as Humble Servant of God: In the first reading we heard from Is 49:1-6 a servant song, which is actually fulfilled in John the Baptist. John considers himself a servant of the Messiah. He rightly and humbly confesses that he is not the Messiah. He feels unworthy before the Messiah – not to be fit even to untie the thong of His sandals. Here word ‘humble’ is to be noted. John the Baptist is a humble servant of God. His humility is so remarkable that even Jesus praises him. “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11)”. And John served the Lord God in words and deeds with his total commitment and loyalty. He always upheld truth and justice. It was for becoming strong voice for truth and justice that he was martyred.
3) John the Baptist as a Witness of the Lamb of God: John the Baptist not only bore truth and justice in his heart and mind but also proclaimed and testified when he saw truth of truths, i.e., Jesus Christ. He declared, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). This was his great testimonial. He pointed Jesus as the one filled with the Holy Spirit, as the Lamb of God and as Son of God.
In this three points chiastic highlight of John’s life, the second, which is at the center, viz., humility, is of vital importance for us and that’s the central message today for all of us. Humility is a need of the time. The life of John the Baptist must be challenging us to grow in humility. But, who cares about being humble and meek? It’s often ridiculous to become humble, isn’t it? Humility is the mother of all virtues. St. Ignatius of Loyola had understood it well. He was convinced of it. That is why in his Spiritual Exercises, he explained pride and humility as two opposite forces. He considered pride as the root vices of all kinds that finally get manifested in many forms of evil actions, such as, injustice, corruption, exploitation, hatred, hunger, communal violence, conflicts, division, murder, rape and oppression.
I think today pride has become the root problem in every individual. Just observe. When we get wealth, power, prestige, name and fame, honour, don’t we become proud of ourselves? Yes, we do. At least, this has been my experience. We don’t even know how to react when somebody appreciates us. When we are proud of ourselves, we are actually blinded; we become selfish; we don’t see others as part and parcel of our relational being. That’s how our pride leads us to other evils. If we want total and holistic liberation of ourselves and our world, I think, we must liberate ourselves first from our pride. We must crucify our pride at the cross of humility. St. Ignatius of Loyola has rightly given us humility as a tool to keep a check with our pride.
Now, we should not be confused with word ‘humility’. By humility we never mean ‘submissiveness’. No. Humility is a virtue, a capacity to accept and acknowledge oneself as truly one is in front of God and in front of others and to accept and acknowledge God and others truly for what they are. I think John the Baptist just did that throughout his life. That’s why he is regarded as the greatest of all that Saints. I think in order to liberate ourselves and our world from all demoniac powers that bind us and oppress us, we must take a lesson of humility. For, humility is the root source of the dynamics of human liberation.