Solemnity of the Birth of St.John the Baptist

[Scripture Readings: Is. 49: 1-6; Acts 13: 22-26; Lk. 1: 57-66, 80]

Although not included in this morning’s readings, for me the most moving passage in the gospel narratives concerning John the Baptist is when John in prison sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus was the one that John expected. It had been revealed to John that he had been sent before the Messiah to announce his coming and to prepare Israel to receive him. John had faithfully carried out his mission. He had called Israel to repent from their sins and turn to God. He had announced the Day of Yahweh, when Yahweh’s Anointed would come to punish the proud and unjust and vindicate the poor and oppressed. He had publicly castigated Herod the king for his unlawful marriage, which earned him Herod’s wrath, Herodias’ determination for revenge and imprisonment. But Jesus was not bringing about the Day of Yahweh in the way that John expected. It is easy to see John in prison reflecting on the words of the prophet Isaiah: I thought I had toiled in vain and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength.

What about you and me? Are there not those times when we tried to bring about what we thought was the right situation and it seemed that our efforts went for nothing? We may not have the temperament or the fiery speech of an eschatological prophet, but we are all called to prepare a way for Christ. Do we see our efforts bearing fruit?

Jesus did not say that John had failed in his mission. On the contrary, he told the crowd that there was no one born of woman who was greater than John. However, Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God in a way that did not meet the familiar expectations of the Day of Yahweh. He called John and his contemporaries to look beyond their familiar expectations and accept God’s ways of achieving his purposes as revealed by and in Jesus. Jesus’ words are addressed to us too.

We too have our expectations of what it means to prepare Christ’s way in our own situations, and more often than not they are reliable guides for our behavior. However, God is not limited by our expectations and God’s choice to act in new and unexpected ways is a theme that runs through salvation history down to the present day. In the face of disappointment in the results of our efforts to do good we are called not to give up, but to walk in faith that God will use our efforts to achieve his purposes in his time and in his way. The value of our efforts in working for the kingdom of God will not be known until the final coming of Christ. In the meantime, we are called to carry out the work Christ has given us in fidelity to the gospel, and to accept in faith and hope that our reward is with God and will be revealed when Christ comes to complete and reward our efforts.