Instead of beginning our focus on the event which is detailed in the Gospel this Sunday, namely the inauguration of the Lord Jesus’ ministry and the definitive declaration of his union with the Blessed Trinity by God the Father, I’d like us to examine the other main figure in Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist.

Although only Luke’s Gospel actually comes out and states that John was the blood relative, the cousin of the Lord Jesus, we know 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 a woman greater than John the Baptist. In fact, many people truly believed that John was the Christ and left everything to go and 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 of the Gospels is to serve as a reminder that it is Jesus, not John, who is the Holy One of God, the Messiah. John is the first to recognize the adult Jesus as Lord and protests vehemently the mere suggestion that he should baptize Jesus.

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. John, with his clothes of camel hair and the leather belt around his waist, looked the part. With his diet of wild honey and locust, and his consistent message of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God, John, perhaps even more so 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 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, I’d venture to guess, perhaps Elizabeth was the same.

And yet, John does not let the fame, the adulation go to his head. He knows who he is and what it is that 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.”

John is able to do this because he knows who he is: he is not the Messiah, but the forerunner of the Messiah, the last and greatest of the Prophets, 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, one created in the image and likeness of Almighty God, and one who will be bathed in the most precious blood of the Lamb who will be slain for us men and our salvation. And that’s enough for him. This is true humility, true openness to the will of the Lord in our life. 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.

How about for us? Do we know, really know, who we are? Do we recognize that we are not the Messiah? That God is God and that we’re not God, 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 in your own particular vocation in this Christian life, priesthood, consecrated life, married, single, recognize who you are, how beautiful you are, another beloved daughter or son of God the Most High?

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 … 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, despite sin, you and I are created in God’s image and through baptism are conformed to his likeness. On your worst day, when everything seems to be going wrong, don’t lose sight of that.