2 January [Sts Basil and Gregory]
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 baptising if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptise 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 baptising.
John the Baptist had an extensive ministry of his own, apart from his witness to Jesus (Mt 3; Lk 3), but in the fourth gospel all of this is passed over; the Baptist’s whole meaning is his pointing to Jesus. When quizzed about his identity he answers all their questions in the negative, and then he identifies himself only as “a voice.” Later, Jesus would refer to him as “a lamp”: “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (John 5:35).
A voice. A lamp. They don't call attention to themselves but to something else. The world says you have to call attention to yourself and become famous – a celebrity if possible. But in the spiritual life the ideal is to become invisible. The images that Jesus used tell the same story: salt, yeast, grain, light…. He has had countless un-famous disciples, beginning even with some of the apostles: Simon and Jude, for example, and Andrew.
Some lines from the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas:
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