Can You Be Greater Than John the Baptist?

12.17.17  Sun. wk 3 – Advent – B
1st Reading  Isaiah  61: 1 – 2a, 10 – 11
Thessalonians  5:  16 – 24
Gospel – John  1: 6 – 8, 19 – 28

Please refer to your own Bible for the Scripture readings

Homily:  Fr. Mike Murphy    “Can You Be Greater Than John the Baptist?”

†Jesus was speaking of you, when He said: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet, the least born in the Kingdom of heaven, is greater than John” (Matt.11:11)

     Each one of us has the potential, and has been given the grace, to be greater than John the Baptist.  Is this really possible?  John’s name is prominent in the divinely, inspired Scriptures; even parishes are named after him.  This can be confusing for us since this man has become bigger than life.  Can we possibly be “greater” than John the Baptist?  To understand the call of †Jesus that we become “greater” than John, we must first understand something of his mission.

“Who are you, John?”  It is the same question the religious leaders of the time asked of John, the son of Zechariah.  John’s primary mission was to give testimony of the “Light”; to tell the world of the coming of †Jesus, the “Lamb of God” who, after thousands of years, would bring reconciliation to humanity.  John would lay the groundwork for the public ministry of †Jesus: His teaching, healing of the sick, and erasing the rift between God and humanity caused by sin.  In a sense, John was also a teacher.  He would educate souls and open hearts to receive the “good news” of †Jesus.  John was also the “prophet”.  The role of the prophet is to shake people out of their complacency.  John was to arouse and awaken people to the coming of a new age: the fulfillment of God’s promises and the fulfillment of their hopes; hopes they had held on to – century after century.

Zechariah, John’s father, expressed the hope of the people at the birth of His son in His powerful canticle:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

He has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior…

(who) would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us…
He promised to show mercy…
and to remember his holy covenant.

Free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life…
To give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:68-79)

John was to prepare the world for this.  John was not the Word of God; he was the “voice” preparing for the Word.  In order to become the “voice”, John had to be “all in” with the vision; completely caught up in the vision of God.  John had to belong to God completely because the hearts he was preparing, were hardened after centuries of waiting and disappointment.  His was a challenging mission.

Well, there it is; that is the job description. We are to be “greater” than that!

How can we possibly do this?  How can we possibly be greater than John?  We have something John did not have.  We have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in their fullness; we have daily access to the grace of the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments given by †Jesus.  Pentecost would occur after the death of John.  That is when †Jesus sent His Spirit to be the life force of all believers.  We have been given the fruits of the Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal.5:22).  We have been given the Spirit of Christ in a way that John did not possess.  By embracing and living these “gifts” we can become “greater than John”.

On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, what is traditionally named Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate the gift of JOY.  Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and a sign that the Spirit lives within us.  To shake the world out of its indifference, we need joyful prophets.  St. Teresa of Avila wrote that ‘there are no sad saints’!  Many in the culture are busy with earthly affairs these days and miss the point of this season.  They are caught up in a shopping mall mentality.  When we look at the world around us, it is clear: Joy has fallen on hard times.  We are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of suffering, scandals and secularism.  This should not take away our capacity for joy.  St. Paul lived in the turbulent world of the 1st century, yet, he could write to the Thessalonians: “Brothers and sisters, rejoice always” (1 Thess.5:16).  He tells us to pray always and be full of gratitude.  The words of the prophet, Isaiah, must burst from our heart: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God is the joy of my soul” (Is. 61:10).  These words unite us to the heart and soul of Mary.  The holy Mother of †Jesus proclaimed similar words to Elizabeth in her beautiful Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior,

for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant” (Luke 1:46-48).

The Lord has looked with favor on us.  There is so much to be joyful about: our faith, our families, the blessings given us.  We can rejoice even if we are a “voice…in a desert”.

Children have no problem showing joy.  Show them a little love and they will express joy.  This is why †Jesus chose a child to highlight the Kingdom of God: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mark 10:15).  As adults, we lose sight of what is important in life.  We worry about the image we project; we worry about the things that are out of our control.  The world is a thief of joy.  How do we defeat this thief?  Pope Francis offers us a plan for a joyful Christmas:

First, pray, ‘Lord, let me live this Christmas with true joy’, not with the joy of consumerism that        leads to December 24th with anxiety, because, ‘I’m missing this, or I’m missing that’.

Second, give thanks to God: ‘Thank you, Lord, for so many beautiful things!’.

Third, think of how you can go out to others (who are) in difficulty and with problems, to bring a little peace and joy” (Open Your Heart: Daily Reflections for Advent; All saints Press, 2017; p.17).

There is no greater joy than the satisfaction of giving the gift of you to another.  This is the prophetic life: to joyfully give of yourself out of love for †Jesus.  Joyfully, imitate the mission of John: giving testimony to the “Light” and not shining the light on yourself.  Teach others about the love and mercy of God; teach them by showing love and mercy in your life.  Help them to open their heart to †Jesus by showing them the joy you feel as a “voice…in the desert”.  Pray for…truly desire… and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Be a “voice” for the Lord, to “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23).  Remove barriers to the Lord in your life and help others clear the way for †Jesus in their life.  †Jesus applied these words of Isaiah to Himself; they are meant for us, as well:

“The Spirit of the Lord, God is upon me…He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,

to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to prisoners,

to announce a year of favor from the Lord” (Is. 61:1-2a).

Just as Mary was aware of the movements of the baby in her womb, be aware of the movements of the Holy Spirit within you; giving you the grace to “Testify to the Light” (John 1:8) as prophets of joy.  And, even if you are “least in the Kingdom”, you will be “greater than John”.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.