PLAYING SECOND FIDDLE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Is 49:1-6; Ps 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66-80]
Today, we celebrate the birthday of John the Baptist. At every birth of a child, the question as to “What will this child turn out to be?” would come to mind, just as it did to the townsfolk of John the Baptist. Indeed, all of us want the best in life for our children. We hope our children will be successful in life; that they will be rich, famous and a great leader in the world. Indeed, the greatest joy and fulfillment of parents is to see their children succeed.
But does success mean that they must always be at the top, above everyone else? How do we measure success? Success is when our children realize their vocation in life. It cannot be determined by worldly standards because they push our children to individualism, selfishness and ambition. It is about serving themselves, making themselves rich, famous and powerful. It is not about serving humanity or God. This explains why some of us cannot accept our position in life. We always envy those who are better than us or hold a position higher than ours.
In the case of John the Baptist and his mother, Elizabeth, they were marvelously gracious to accept the role of second fiddle. John the Baptist was chosen to be only a precursor for the Messiah. He was not the Messiah. When Mary visited Elizabeth in her pregnancy, John the Baptist “leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'” (Lk 1:41f) Elizabeth was not envious that Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Saviour. In fact, she was happy for her. So, too, John the Baptist followed after his mother. He was happy and contented to be the herald of the Messiah. He did not seek to usurp the place of Jesus. In fact, he could have if wanted to, because we are told the people thought that he was the Messiah or Elijah or the prophet. But he said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'” (Jn 1:23)
John the Baptist was humble and knew his place in God’s plan. Paul said, “Before John ended his career he said, ‘I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.'” (cf Jn 1:26f) He did not try to pretend to be what he was not. He was not a pretender, not a fake. He was just himself. He was just what God wanted him to be and to do. He accepted the Lord’s choice with joy. Indeed, he never doubted the Lord’s choice of his role for him. We can be sure that the prayer of the psalmist was his as well when he said, “O Lord, you search me and you know me, you know my resting and my rising, you discern my purpose from afar. You mark when I walk or lie down, all my ways lie open to you. For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb. I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation. Already you knew my soul, my body held no secret from you when I was being fashioned in secret and moulded in the depths of the earth.”
If only we know God’s will and plan for us, and are able to accept His choice for us, we will always be happy and contented in life. The reason why some people are never happy wherever they are is because they are never happy with themselves. They live in deep insecurity, wanting to prove to others that they are the best. They spend all their energy fighting with their competitors, planning and conniving how to destroy them instead of realizing their potentials in life by doing what they are gifted and called to do. Indeed, if there is clarity in our calling in life, regardless of the work or position we are in, we will be fulfilled.
For John the Baptist, he was clear that he was called to be the precursor of our Lord. He did not want to be more than what the Lord had chosen him to do. The words of Isaiah apply to him. “The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name. He made my mouth a sharp sword, and hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow, and concealed me in his quiver.” John the Baptist was given the gift of preaching and he realized his vocation by calling the people to repentance through the forgiveness so their sins. He wanted the people to be prepared to receive the Messiah when he came. Indeed, “the Lord has spoken, he who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, to gather Israel to him.” But he stopped there because he knew that the Messiah’s role was not just “to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel” but He would be “the light of the nations so that (God’s) salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Hence, John the Baptist was very happy to give way to Jesus when the time came. We read in John’s gospel that when he saw Jesus, he pointed out to his disciples, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” (Jn 1:29-31) Again when he was told that Jesus was baptizing others, he was unperturbed. They tried to stir up his jealousy by saying to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (Jn 3:26) But the reply of John was truly one of great humility and full awareness of his identity. He answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom.” (Jn 3:26-29)
Truly, John was happy because he fulfilled his vocation in life. It was not a matter of who he was and what he did but that he completed the task that God gave him to do. His conscience was clear and his joy complete. He knew that his task was to bring others to the Messiah. So why should he be jealous, now that others, including his disciples, were moving to Jesus? He said, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn 3:29f) This is true for us as well.
Happiness in life is not about being at the top or being in second place, but whether we have fulfilled our role in God’s plan of salvation. In other words, have we brought people to Jesus, or to ourselves? If we are only interested in bringing others to us, we will always be insecure because there will always be competition for the top position. It is about self and satisfying our ego. But if we are focused on the Lord, then it does not matter who brings who to Jesus, so long as they are brought to Jesus. When someone is brought to the Lord, then our task is done. We can retreat and allow the Lord to complete them. The truth is that none of us can complete each other. Only the Lord can fulfill our heart’s desires. That is why the greatest gift we can give to another is Jesus, just as John the Baptist did. This was what God said, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour.”
Indeed, the name of John means “God has been gracious.” God has been gracious to Zechariah and Elizabeth in blessing them with a child in their old age. They in turn were gracious in bringing up their child in accordance with the plan of God. And John the Baptist was truly gracious in using his life to announce the coming of the Messiah. “The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.” He was gracious to lead us to Jesus and not to himself. What about us? Are we gracious in leading others to 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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