The Gospel for Mass today, Gaudete (rejoicing) Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent comes from the Gospel of John. It tells of John the Baptist and his witness to the Christ.
A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.
This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:
a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’
Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
The way John the evangelist tells the story emphasises again and again what John the Baptist is not. He is not the Christ but he is the one who is witness to the light, the Christ.
The suspicion is that there was a time when many did think John was more important than Jesus. Perhaps this was during Jesus’ lifetime, perhaps at the the time the Gospel was being written, perhaps both.
What lesson might we take from this?
- Are there times when we are tempted to think of ourselves as more important than the Christ? Or our call to serve?
- What does it mean that the one whose sandal-strap we too are unfit to undo, comes to serve us?
- How open to change and growth are we?
Photograph of The Baptism of Christ by Marek Zulaski (1982) in Church of Our Lady, St John’s Wood. Photograph (c) 2007, Allen Morris.