Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: "I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John...." But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: "[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke 7:28).
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).
John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. "I need to be baptized by you" (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic.
The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people ("all Judea") to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.
Perhaps John's idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus' answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (chapters 49 through 53). John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.
John challenges us Christians to the fundamental attitude of Christianity—total dependence on the Father, in Christ. Except for the Mother of God, no one had a higher function in the unfolding of salvation. Yet the least in the kingdom, Jesus said, is greater than he, for the pure gift that the Father gives. 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.
"And this is not something which was only true once, long ago in the past. It is always true, because the repentance which he preached always remains the way into the kingdom which he announced. He is not a figure that we can forget now that Jesus, the true light, has appeared. John is always relevant because he calls for a preparation which all men need to make. Hence every year there are four weeks in the life of the Church in which it listens to the voice of the Baptist. These are the weeks of Advent" (A New Catechism).
I pause for a moment and think of the love and the grace that God showers on me: I am created in the image and likeness of God; I am God's dwelling-place.
If God were trying to tell me something, would I know? If God were reassuring me or challenging me, would I notice? I ask for the grace to be free of my own preoccupations and open to what God may be saying to me.
Knowing that God loves me unconditionally, I can afford to be honest about how I am. How has the last day been, and how do I feel now? I share my feelings openly with the Lord.
The Word of God
Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist - Mass during the Day Lectionary: 587 Reading 1
Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The LORD called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.
Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God. For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15
R. (14) I praise you, for I am wonderfully made. O LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My journeys and my rest you scrutinize, with all my ways you are familiar.
R. I praise you for I am wonderfully made. Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made. My soul also you knew full well; nor was my frame unknown to you When I was made in secret, when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
In those days, Paul said: "God raised up David as king; of him God testified, I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish. From this man's descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus. John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.'
"My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those others among you who are God-fearing, to us this word of salvation has been sent."
Alleluia See Lk 1:76 R. Alleluia, alleluia. You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Lk 1:57-66, 80
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Some thoughts on today's scripture
▪ Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, a rare distinction he shares with Jesus and Our Lady. Like many Old Testament figures who played an important role in the history of our salvation, John is born to a sterile woman, in her old age. Our salvation is all God's work. Our world is too self-sufficient to admit we need a saviour, but the present situation, with so much violence and pain in relationships, may perhaps move more of us to ask God to save us. Although he does not save us without our collaboration, it is his will that the world be saved, have a happy ending.
▪ 'Indeed the hand of the Lord was with him'. I certainly do not have such an important mission as John, but whatever I am being called to do, I know that the hand of the Lord is with me. I thank God for his powerful presence in my life, and ask him to strengthen my faith.
Jesus you speak to me through the words of the gospels. May I respond to your call today. Teach me to recognise your hand at work in my daily living.
I thank God for these few moments we have spent alone together and for any insights I may have been given concerning the text.
The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (Solemnity)
What, then, will this child be? (Luke 1:66)
What do you think is the most impressive thing about John the Baptist? His uncompromising zeal for the Lord? His clear, passionate preaching? Maybe his gift of self-denial or the humility he displayed despite his fame?
How about this—that even before he was born, John leapt for joy in the presence of Mary and Jesus. Imagine: here was an unborn baby, barely aware of life outside of the womb, and yet the muffled, quiet sound of Mary's greeting filled him with the Holy Spirit and caused such a dramatic reaction.
This leap may remind us of Isaac's wife, Rebecca, who also felt an unusual amount of activity from the twins in her womb. Rebecca asked the Lord why this was happening, and he told her that something spiritual and prophetic was going on inside of her (Genesis 25:20-23). King David also leaped before the ark of the covenant as he brought it to its place of honor in Jerusalem. He loved God so much he could not contain himself (2 Samuel 6:14-15). The prophet Isaiah wrote that in the age to come, when the glory of the Lord is made manifest, the lame will leap for joy (35:4-6).
John's leaping shows us that there is a part of us that can recognize God, regardless of what we do or who we are. It's encoded into the way he made us, whether we are children in the womb like John, great kings like David, or the poor and afflicted described by Isaiah. It's in all of us, and it's something that the Holy Spirit wants to bring to life. He wants all of us to be able to recognize Jesus and rejoice in his presence, even if Jesus comes to us in unlikely, humble ways, just as he did for John.
So on this great feast day, let's honor John the Baptist for all that he did for Jesus and for us. John truly is one of the greatest saints of the Church. But let's never forget that the relationship between John and Jesus is something we all can experience. You too can leap for joy as you prepare this world for the coming of Christ the King!
"Lord, I want to see you. Come show yourself to me, and fill my heart with joy."
my2cents: On this day, in Mexico, in the older tradition, people celebrate the "dia de San Juan" the day of St. John the baptist by splashing each other with water. Today's Holy Scriptures gave an account of all his life. Life in the womb of his mother, and life until he gave his life to our Lord. He was only a few months older than our Lord Jesus, like half a year. And He died for the Lord, while yet, the Lord had not died for him. This is tremendous love, the same love that caused him to leap in his mothers womb, caused him to leap into death for Jesus, his cousin, his brother, his friend and Savior. The prophet Isaiah was right to say today "The LORD called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name." and "I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." Because Saint John the Baptist lit up the way to the Lord...to the one whom he said "Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.'" But we are indeed worthy enough to die for Him. Such is the extremity of the holiness of John, and St. John would be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven...surely he sets the bar high for this lowliness and humility, a true worship of our Lord.
We prayed today " I praise you for I am wonderfully made." and then we prayed a Psalm commonly used to promote being pro life: "Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works." A lady stood up in the prisoner's retreat and also said that the word "fear" is tied with the word "awesome", as if to say here then "we are awesomely made". To be in fear of the Lord is to stand in awe, in true adoration, a true fear of the vast greatness of a tremendous Father, that is all, not just knows all. A Father to be revered and adored before anyone and anything else in the world.
When Zechariah spoke and fulfilled what was said by the angel to him, we heard today "Then fear came upon all their neighbors", they were struck with awe and spread the news throughout the country. The priest finally spoke. And the people stood amazed. For 9 months he could not say a word, and now he speaks to say the name the angel said John would be named. ""What, then, will this child be?" It was a prophecy that was fulfilled. Saint John would be the voice in the desert, leading the way to the fire of the Lord. John was said "grew and became strong in spirit" and this is the way...in the desert with the Lord, and this speaks volumes of being set apart, which means to be holy, to be a light in the darkness, to show who actually is King...and Jesus enters the waters in the desert, to be baptized, and John would say "you should be baptizing me", and Jesus says "we must fulfill the Scriptures". How did John know Jesus so well? He knew since before he was born that Jesus was King. He knew, but didn't know all to do but be faithful. You too, this is for you. You must grow strong. And you will be strong in the spirit, when our Lord takes front and center of your life.
Let this day of Saint John's birth remind us of our baptism. Splash water on yourself and feel the Holy Spirit work in the cleansing of your soul, to be one with Him, no more of the world. This is where John went, laying His life for the Lord....