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Epiphany,Denha,2nd S,jan.16,11


Denaha,2nd S,Jan.16,2011


James Martin S.J. is a prolific writer on contemporary spiritual issues. As a young man he worked in the Wall Street, after his graduation from the Wharton School of Business. But he felt that the work in the world of Finance was not satisfying his inner spiritual hunger. He resigned his job and decided to work full time for God--to become a Jesuit priest. Like Thomas Merton, he abandoned everything he had in the world of material success and opted for total poverty. He wrote a beautiful work called “In Good Company” detailing the spiritual transformation that has taken place in his life. Only those who have deep convictions can witness to those convictions without any fear or anxiety. James Martin belongs to that group.

Today in the Gospel reading, we come across a person with tremendous spiritual strength and confidence who had no fear of men or material powers. It is none other John the Baptist about whom Jesus remarked that “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.”(Mt.11,11)

Jesus has not started his preaching and the voice of John is heard over the hills and valleys of Palestine .People are rushing towards him as if he were the savior. The Jewish leaders are really perplexed at the great crowds John is drawing and at the tenor and power of his words calling people to repentance and to a closer union with God. So they send their emissaries to ask him directly to describe who he is. They ask him whether he is Elijah or a Prophet like Moses or the Christ himself.

It was the belief among the Israelites that before the arrival of the Messiah, one of the great prophets like Elijah or Moses would appear. According to prophet Malachi, Elijah would make final preparations for the arrival of the Messiah. In Deut.18:15, the expectation is for a Moses-like prophet. Hence John the Baptist is peppered with questions concerning his identity.

Refuting all these notions and expectations, he asserts that he is none other than a path-breaker, a voice crying in the desert to prepare the way for the One who is to come after him, the real Prophet and Savior. John also points out the distinctive difference between what he offers and what Jesus is going to offer. He offers a baptism of water, a ritual cleansing whereas the Baptism of Jesus involves the cleansing of the soul. Jesus alone has the authority to forgive sins.

Baptism has a history in the life of the Jews. The rite of immersion once meant legal purification for those who contracted some impurity under the Law. Baptism was also used as a rite to receive the gentile converts into Judaism. John’s baptism is something similar as a sign of conversion or of repentance. But the baptism that Jesus gives confers the Holy Spirit, makes one a child of God and cleanses one of sins.

What comes out of this testimony of John is the awareness of his own limitations and also of his powerful proclamation of the authenticity of the mission of Jesus. In spite of enjoying such a high regard among the people because of his austere life and penance, he is humble enough to acknowledge that he is only a shadow, an echo and that he is not the one who should be given a prime place in their hearts. He is to be considered only a slave as he is only worthy enough to do a slave’s work, untying the laces of the master’s sandals. Referring to John, St. Augustine says that John’s greatest merit lies in his act of humility.

How can we reflect in our life the sense of humility and the power of testimony that John exemplified in his life?

Our arrogant ways, contempt for our neighbors, and our glorification of our achievements etc do not become us as the followers of Christ. Our talents and accomplishments, our family and our resources and everything that we have should be seen as gifts of God. We are just dispensers of the gifts of God. Such an attitude will enable us to become more compassionate and forgiving in our lives.

Many a time we are very shy of bearing witness to our faith in the Lord. Even in our family circles, we are unwilling to share our faith. Parents very rarely share their experience of their faith with their children. Some leave that task of sharing to priests and CCD teachers.

We don’t realize that we live in a world that is unabashedly materialistic and hostile to a Christian way of life. During the Christmas days, people are afraid of even mentioning the word, Christmas. All religious symbols of the Christian faith are ignored. As the Holy Father Pope Benedict has remarked in his recent book “Light of the World”, a negative type of tolerance (not offending anyone) is being created in the minds of people. In such a willful silence, if those who believe do not witness to Christ, it would be a great betrayal of Christ. To quote the Holy Father again,” we need a sort of revolution of faith in many senses---the sense of courage even to contradict commonly held convictions.”(Salt of the Earth,p.33)

It is through our words and actions that Jesus should become revealed. May the words and life of John the Baptist inspire us to become bearers of the Good News.


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