Sunday Scriptures

Knowing Our Roles In the Kingdom

by Father John P. Cush

IN THIS SUNDAY’S Gospel from the Evangelist Matthew, we encounter, yet again, the figure of St. John the Baptist. At this time in the Gospel story, John is already imprisoned, locked away by Herod. The Lord Jesus had John’s disciples come to Him, asking quite bluntly if He’s the one about whom John was preaching, the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

Although only Luke’s Gospel actually states that John was the blood relative, the cousin of the Lord Jesus, we know for certain that there was a strong, intrinsic bond between John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus Himself proclaims the fact that there is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist. In fact, there were many people who truly believed that John was the Christ, and there were many people who left everything to follow him.

One of the reasons why the story of the baptism of the Lord by John in the Jordan is featured in all four Gospels is to serve as a reminder that it is Jesus, not John, who is the Holy One of God. In all four accounts, John is the first to recognize the adult Jesus as Lord, and in fact, protests vehemently the mere suggestion that he should baptize Jesus.

Looking the Part

There must have been a reason why so many people believed that John was the Messiah at first. For starters, he fit the part of the Old Testament prophet much more than Jesus did. Wearing clothes of camel hair and a leather belt around his waist, John looked the part. Add to that his diet of wild honey and locust, and above all, his consistent message of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God. John, perhaps even more than Jesus, looked like a new version of Hosea, with his outrageous stunts to make his point, or a new Ezekiel, a new Isaiah or perhaps even more, a new Elijah.

Imagine being John the Baptist. Imagine the whole world hanging on your every word, your every action. Imagine the feeling of power, the feeling of euphoria. They all want you; they all need you. Now, remember that messiahs, or rather people claiming to be the messiah, were a dime a dozen in Jerusalem. Every Jewish mother was hoping and praying that it would be her little boy who would grow up to be the savior of his people. And perhaps Elizabeth was the same.

And yet, John does not let the fame and adulation go to his head. He knows who he is and what he is meant to be: “Not me, but thee, O Lord”; “He must increase, I must decrease.” Or, as he states in another Gospel passage, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Humility and Confidence

John is able to do this because he knows who he is: not the messiah, but the forerunner of the Messiah, the one selected from all eternity to point the way to the Lamb of God, who is going to take away the sins of the world. John knows that he is a beloved child of God Most High, created in the image and likeness of Almighty God, and will be bathed in the most precious blood of the Lamb who will be slain for us and our salvation. And that’s enough for him. This is true humility and openness to the will of the Lord. This can only come from self-knowledge and confidence in the place that the Lord has for us in the building up of His Kingdom.

Do we know, really know, who we are? Do we recognize that we are not the Messiah? That God is God and we’re not, and thank God for that? Do we recognize that we are creature, not Creator, completely dependent on the one who loves us, that every breath we take is totally dependent on the gracious will of our Heavenly Father?

Do you and I really know ourselves? Do I trust that, for some reason known only to God, in spite of my sinful ways and human limitations, I was chosen to be his priest, and so too are all my brother priests?

Do you in consecrated life recognize that, for no other reason besides the will of the Heavenly Father, you were chosen to be a Bride of Christ, with your vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, all true eschatological signs of the Kingdom of God?

Do you in your own particular vocation in this Christian life – married or single – recognize who you are, how beautiful you are as a beloved child of God the Most High?

Shining Like the Sun

The 20th-century spiritual writer Thomas Merton, after many years of living the Trappist lifestyle, was permitted to leave his abbey to go shopping for his community one day. This is from his work, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

You’re all walking around, shining like the sun. Despite sorrow and sin, you and I are created in God’s image and through baptism are conformed to His likeness. Even on your worst day, don’t lose sight of that.


 

Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent                                  

Isaiah 35: 1-6A, 10

Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10

James 5: 7-10

Matthew 11: 2-11


 

Father John P. Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as academic dean of the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State and as an assistant professor of theology and U.S. Church history.

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