by Bishop Kenneth Untener

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 | 2 Peter 3:8-14 | Mark 1:1-8

Thus it was that John the Baptizer appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance. (Mk 1:4)

John the Baptist is the man of whom Jesus would say, “History has not known a man born of woman greater than John.” That’s quite a statement. Greater than all the pharaohs of Egypt? Greater than King Solomon? Really. It just goes to show that you can’t tell a book by its cover.

John the Baptist’s life didn’t look like a great one. He probably died thinking his life was a failure. The Messiah who came was embarrassingly unlike the one he had preached about. The Messiah, after all, was to wield a winnowing-fan and set all things right. John prepared the way. Jesus came and announced that the kingdom was at hand … and there was John in jail. He even had to send some of his disciples to ask, “Are you ‘He who is to come,’ or do we look for another?”

His death was no better. He was killed for the price of a dance, his head cut off by some soldier who didn’t even know his name, and who probably grumbled all the way down the dungeon steps about having to go out in the middle of the night on an errand.

“History has not known a man born of woman greater than John.” The ultimate significance of one’s life often bears little resemblance to the normal measures of success. Those who work for peace and justice need to know that. There are times when all our efforts seem so useless. No matter. Preach the message. Be true to the word of God. And let God, not the world, measure success.

How would you measure a successful life? Explain.

When was the last time you were judged harshly? Was it appropriate?

*This reflection originally appeared in Pax Christi USA’s Advent reflection booklet for 1987, “a time of favor: Advent 1987”.

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