The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Homily: January 2

Readings: 1 John 2:22-28; Ps 98; John 1:19-28

Public image, self-image, reality -- very different perceptions, especially today when image seems to count far more than reality -- today, when a person’s standing and reputation depend less on their behavior than on the effectiveness of the spin-doctors in their PR firm.

Indeed, we can even fool ourselves. Remember Marlon Brando’s line from On the Waterfront? “I coulda been a contender!” If only, huh?

Yes, too often the way we hope others see us – that image we project to the world – is pretty far removed from reality. Just like the Pharisees. They wanted to be seen as holy men, as meticulous followers of the law, and so they questioned and probed.

Now, questioning’s a good thing -- if you’re looking for answers. But the Pharisees were sure they already had all the answers. They questioned and probed only to get answers that made them look good. They worked hard to project that law-abiding, holy image by comparing themselves publicly with those they considered less holy, less law-abiding. And John the Baptist fit the bill perfectly. Just as Jesus would later on.
Pharisees and Levites Confront John the Baptist

The Pharisees asked John why he did all that baptizing. Just who do you think you are, John? Some kind of prophet? Elijah, maybe -- come back to earth? Did you arrive in a flaming chariot? Or maybe you think you’re the Messiah. Is that it?

The Levites – the priests of the Temple – were no better, asking John the same questions. Just who are you, anyway? Important people want to know. But like the Pharisees, their words gave them away. “What do you have to say for yourself?” they asked. But they didn’t want answers. They just wanted to bring John down in the eyes of the people; thinking doing so would raise themselves.

You see, brothers and sisters, there’s one big reason the Levites and the Pharisees were unable to understand John and see him for who he was. Quite simply they just couldn’t comprehend John’s humility, a virtue foreign to them. John was different because he wasn’t driven by some desire to project a bogus self-image. He knew exactly who he was.

Back in the 70s the wife of a friend of mine left him and their three children, and went to India to study under some guru she had encountered. She said she had to find herself. I suppose she suffered from what we’d call an “identity crisis”, that modern self-inflicted illness that seems to plague so many folks today.

I’m pretty sure this would have puzzled John, who had no problem identifying himself. With John what you saw was what you got. He didn’t base his understanding of himself on the opinion of others because the opinion of others had no effect on him. He didn’t wish he were different, because he was totally content with the man he was. And so he had no need to project an image; he just showed the world the real John, the only John there was.

In all humility and sincerity John told everyone he was just a voice, a voice pleading with people to prepare the way for the coming of the King, a voice crying out in the spiritual desert of the world, begging all who hear him to repent.

John the Baptist was the bridge between the Old and New Testaments, the last of the Old Testament Prophets. He was the privileged one, who not only pointed the way to the Messiah, but also pointed to the Messiah Himself and announced His mission to the world: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John saw from a distance what the Messiah came to accomplish: our redemption from slavery to sin and our adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. 

And so whom do we imitate? Are we like the Levites and Pharisees, always worried about what others think about us? Or are we like John? Do we recognize our true identity, the identity bestowed on us by our Baptism, our identity as children of God and citizens of heaven?

To whom do we point? Do we point only at ourselves? Or do we point others to Christ by our witness and example?

Simple questions, but they demand some pretty hard answers.

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