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CN 2 TN A: The Greatness of John the Baptist

A kite was consumed by envy of the eagle. “How come he can fly so high? Everyone admires him and no one admires me.” One day the kite sees a hunter and calls out to him to shoot the eagle. The hunter replies that he would need to add some feathers to his arrow for it to reach the eagle. The kite pulled one of his best feathers and gave it to the hunter.

That was not enough to reach the eagle. So the kite pulled another and then another and yet the arrow was not quite able to reach the eagle. Before long all the kite’s best feathers were gone and he was no longer able to fly. The hunter simply turned round and shot the kite as his catch for the day. The moral of the story: envy and jealousy consume the person who harbours them before the person for whom they are harboured.

There is a difference between envy and jealousy. Envy is dissatisfaction with what belongs to us and coveting what belongs to another. We can envy people for their looks, their possessions or their relationships, wishing we could take their place. Jealousy, on the other hand, is the fear that what is ours may be lost to another. Both envy and jealousy rob people of their inner peace as they devise ways to eliminate the person they perceive as standing in the way to their personal fulfilment.

Looking at the way things are in our world today, it would seem that envy and jealousy are normal human traits. But the example of John the Baptist shows us that true personal fulfilment and greatness lies not in how we may compare with others but in how faithful we are to our God-given roles in life.

How many people like to hear that the person who succeeded them is doing better than they did? Nobody. Here John is a rare example. John started the Kingdom of God movement. Jesus succeeded him as leader of the movement after Herod imprisoned John and had him executed. Yet whenever John speaks of Jesus he speaks of Jesus as better than him. He describes Jesus as the bridegroom and himself as only his best man (John 3:29). Notice how he introduces Jesus to his own disciples in today’s gospel:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me” (John 1:29-30).

As a result of this endorsement, two of his disciples left him and followed Jesus (verse 37). These were the first disciples of Jesus according to John’s Gospel. John summarised his whole attitude to Jesus in one statement: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Why is John so content and satisfied with playing the second fiddle rather than vying with Jesus for the limelight? It is because he knows exactly the reason for him being in the world. He knows why he came into this life: “I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:30). Because he knows why he is here, John can tell when he has done his bit. He can tell when it is time to hand the baton to another. Why did you come into the world? What is God’s plan for your life? If you do not have a personal answer to this question, chances are that you will spend your life chasing after everything and nothing, in a rat-race of envy and jealousy with those you perceive as better than you. Instead of living and working in harmony and cooperation with others, people who do not know the reason for their being are often driven by rivalry and competition.

But look at the flowers in the field. Some are shrubs and some are herbs, some are red and some are white, some are yellow and some are blue; yet all of them are beautiful. The poinsettia, the daffodil, the rose, all are beautiful because they have their different purposes. As we come to the long period of Sundays in ordinary time marked by the liturgical colour green, let us have John the Baptist before us as a great example of what it means to be ordinary. Fact is, there is much greatness in being ordinary. Even though John felt he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, Jesus did turn round to say of him, “Among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).


Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp

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