Gospel Reflection Advent 3B
December 11, 2011
John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Humility is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of John the Baptizer. He attracted crowds of people who went out into the inhospitable wilderness to listen to him demand that they repent – to make changes in their lives that reflect God’s goodness. Even Roman soldiers listened to him and asked his advice about how to live in a way that honors God. (Roman soldiers weren’t known for humility.) John even took on Herod, the most powerful ruler in the land, knowing that to do so could shorten his life. He was loaded with self-confidence and with certainty in the truth of his message and his own obligation to proclaim it.
Yet John shows himself to be an exemplar of true humility.The Rule of The Community of the Transfiguration defines humility as “the facing of the truth about ourselves in the light of the vision of God.” He knew without question that “he himself was not the light” and that his vocation – his way of being most fully the person God Created him to become – was to use the gifts he had been given by God “to testify to the light.”
Given that his vocation was to testify in so dramatic and public a setting, along with the temptations of attentive crowds following him and hanging on his words, John’s humility is remarkable. He would not accept any honor. To be the herald who goes ahead of the important person to tell others to get ready was his calling and joy. Getting credit and praise didn’t matter to him. What mattered was that he did the best he could to honor and point to Jesus. He knew who he was. He knew that, in the light of Jesus, none of us is “worthy” in any sense of having earned honor or plaudits. Worthiness and honor were irrelevant to him because they were irrelevant to testifying to the light. His example is a challenge to us as we respond to our own calls to testify to the light in the varied ways God has given us.
John shows us that humility is not about proclaiming ourselves worthless and insisting that others are better than we are or more right than we are or smarter or whatever than we are. Humility is not about putting ourselves down or groveling. Humility does not mean we cannot be grateful for and enjoy what we do well. Humility encourages us to follow John’s example; to recognize our gifts and use them to the best of our ability. It is, in part, through using our gifts, simply, as well as we can, as thoughtfully, prayerfully, generously and fully as we can that we, also, testify to the light of Jesus Christ.