+ Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. John, of course, was a cousin of Jesus, the son of Zechariah, a priest of the temple in Jerusalem whose task it was to burn incense; and of Elizabeth, a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As we see in the gospel passage Zechariah’s tongue was released from silence only after the birth of his son, whom he communicated would be named John – because he doubted the angel’s word that his wife would bear a son in her old age, and that the child would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth.
John was the greatest of all the Old Testament Prophets because he was the last one of them: who had the exalted privilege and honor of literally pointing to Jesus, as he walked along the banks of the Jordan when he began his public life, and saying: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world! Behold the Lamb of God, indeed – these, of course, are the very words are now restored to the celebration of Mass as the priest holds the Body of Christ before you to look at to see just before receiving him in Holy Communion.
But, John’s main duty in the history of salvation was not just to point: but to prepare for the one who would be pointed to: to prepare the way of the Lord – by preaching a message of repentance for sin: only when the heart is clean can a person be open enough to receive all the God has to offer through his beloved Son – for salvation!
John converted many to this stage of salvation, and then later encouraged them to follow the Lamb, Jesus, who is the true Messiah – the one they had been waiting for these many centuries – who would take them the rest of the way!
When Jesus finally did come on the scene he came to John at the Jordan to give credence to what John was doing, but also to be baptized himself, but not for himself (as he had no sin), but rather for us – to show us that one day baptism and confirmation would be needed by his disciples to bring them into his new and mystical body of His – the Church!
Later, John was imprisoned by King Herod because he told him that it was unlawful for him to marry his sister in law, Herodias. Herod knew that John was right, but when the opportunity presented itself the Baptist literally lost his head so that the King could save face at a dinner party in front of his guests. It was only fitting though – that the very last Old Testament Prophet would give his life as a martyr for Christ – whom he knew to be the Way, the Truth and the Life eternal that he and everyone else was seeking for!
May we each do our all for the Lord every day, even preparing the way for his coming into hearts who do not yet know him, or who may have forgotten about him, or who just seem lost!
Jesus came to save the lost! Jesus came to save us all!