WE ARE GREATER THAN JOHN THE BAPTIST!
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ISA 41:13 – 20; MT 11:11-15 ]
“I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.” This is such an amazing statement, too good to be true! How could anyone of us claim that we are greater than John the Baptist? None of us is as holy as he was. None of us has ever fasted and ate the meager food that he did. None of us ever lived in the desert, in the extreme cold and heat. And surely, none of us can claim that we are so passionately in love with the Lord that we are willing to let go of everything and give our lives to Him completely. So how could we ever dare to hope that we can be greater than John the Baptist?
What is the basis of Jesus’ promise to us? The truth is that John the Baptist is great not because of what he did and how he lived an austere life in the desert. Whilst all the great works that he did and the sacrifices he made cannot be denied, yet what made him truly great was simply because the Lord worked in and through Him. Indeed, the greatness of what we do and who we are cannot be based on our own strength but purely on the grace of God. What made John the Baptist great was that he allowed the grace of God to operate in and through him.
This is what the first reading is saying to us. When the Israelites were discouraged during their exile in Babylon and wanted to give up hope, God sent the prophet Isaiah to console them. God is not only the Lord of history but He also has a personal interest in the lives of His people. With tender words of assurance and consolation, the Lord said, “For I, the Lord, your God, I am holding you by the right hand; I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid, I will help you’. Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm, Israel, puny mite.’ I will help you – it is the Lord who speaks – the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.”
However, it will not be on our own terms but His. He is our redeemer. Hence, He told the Israelites that He will transform and restore Israel from that of a desert and wilderness back to a forest of greenery. Truly, the restoration of Israel was not to be mistaken as the work of men but the work of God. Only then will people come to know that the Lord is God and there is no other besides Him.
That is why the coming of the Kingdom of God is also a gift. Jesus who is the Kingdom of God in person is the gift of God at Christmas. In Jesus we see the Kingdom of God at work, firstly in His life and in His ministry. Everything that Jesus did was in the power of the Holy Spirit. Freely, Jesus came from His Father to manifest His love for us. In Jesus, we see how the power of God was at work, in His miracles and in His work of healing and reconciliation. He is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “The poor and needy ask for water, and there is none, their tongue is parched with thirst. I, the Lord, will answer them, I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.” Through Jesus, we see the manifestation of the power of God. This same power of God is given to us too in the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, we are now children of God, the adopted sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. The gift of sonship is not within our power but can only be received as a gift. For this reason, we are greater than John the Baptist because the Holy Spirit lives in us and makes us His adopted sons and daughters. This great dignity that is bestowed on us comes purely from His grace alone. We do not deserve to be God’s children. But He chose us in Christ just as He chose Israel to be His people out of His goodness and bounty.
But what does it take for His kingdom to work in our lives? What God requires of us is that we make ourselves available. If we want God to work in and through us, we must be docile and submissive to His grace. God only works through those who are humble and lowly, like John the Baptist, Mary, the apostles and the saints. If God permitted the Israelites to suffer exile and humiliation, it was precisely because they needed to be brought low before the Lord could raise them high. They were depending on their own strength and might to fight their enemies. They were arrogant and relied on their wealth, army and resources instead of trusting in the Lord.
Secondly, we must be in love with Him. John the Baptist was deeply in love with the Lord. He was singular minded in His mission. His whole life was given to the Lord. He had no purpose in life other than to fulfill his mission as the messenger to prepare for the Lord’s coming. That was what Jesus said about him when he confirmed John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to return. Like Elijah, John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit of the Lord. (cf Lk 1:17) Like Elijah, he was to prepare the world to welcome the Lord. (cf Mal 3:23-24)
Accordingly we too are called to learn from John the Baptist in his docility to the grace of God. Jesus remarked, “Since John the Baptist came, up to this present time, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm.” What does He mean by this? It does not mean that the kingdom of God is brought about by violence. What Jesus is demanding of us is that we seize the opportunity since it is a time of grace. We must not allow grace to pass us by. Are we ready to seize the grace that the Lord is giving to us during this time of Advent, a time of hope and a time of renewal in His love?
If so, we must imitate the spirit of St John the Baptist and be receptive to his message of repentance. The way to repentance begins by hearing the Word of God. Like John, we need to make time to withdraw into the desert to listen to what the Lord is saying to us. A sincere response to the Word of God is demonstrated in repentance of heart and a turning to the Lord. If we have not done so, we must quickly celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with a contrite and repentant heart. Before the Lord can bestow upon us His graces, we must remove the hardness of our heart.
Like John the Baptist, we must show our sincerity in loving Him. We must also become His messenger in our own way. We must point people towards Jesus. They too are looking for signs of the presence of God and His love in their lives. Yet all the time, we must never forget that God’s love for us is not dependent on whether we do big or small things but that we do everything out of love for Him. When we cooperate with Him, He will act. He is looking for those who will accept Him, for those who are receptive to His graces. He will make use of us as He did with John the Baptist to bring glory to Him.
Truly, if, like the Israelites, we are discouraged in life, then know that God wants to restore us all to the fullness of life. There is no need to be afraid in the face of failure, disappointments and setbacks. This is because with the Lord we can overcome all things. We just need to hold on to the promise of the Lord in faith and in hope that He will fulfill His promises in due time for God is the Faithful One. He is after all our creator and our redeemer. So let us not lose sight of this gift of the Kingdom that God is offering us in Christ as we open our hearts to receive Him.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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