Though Scripture and tradition place great emphasis on John as the forerunner, the one who points to Christ and is, in Christ’s own words, the greatest of the prophets, one aspect of John’s character might be more important for our own times.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke quotes John as saying: “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.” John is speaking out of a tradition of expectation. The Israelites were expecting a Messiah who would lead them out of bondage, who would reform both the priesthood and the monarchy, and who would reinstate the theocracy of Israel by renewing their covenant relationship with God. So he declares that he is not the one who is to come.
Self-effacement and humility are repugnant to many in our times. Self-promotion and “blowing one’s own horn” have replaced these two virtues in much of our society. One can understand such an attitude when one is looking for a position or a job and mindful of the sustenance of one’s family. There is a danger, however, that this attitude can overflow into all other areas of our lives. When we jostle others to get through a checkout or buffet line, when we dominate the conversation and speak only about our accomplishments, when we fail to commend others for their achievements, then something has definitely gone awry.
John knows who he is and does not try to compete with the One who will follow him. He promotes Jesus rather than himself. This virtue is the one that stands out in his response to those who would question his preaching. As he says in the Gospel of St. John, “He must increase; I must decrease.”
The summer equinox has passed and the daylight hours will now begin to shorten. This seasonal change is exactly why the Church places this feast at this time of the year, looking forward to the day when daylight will once again increase just after the winter equinox and the festival of the Nativity of Jesus.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator