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John the Baptist, Man of Humility

by Joel V. Ocampo

photos by Angelo Mangahas

Every year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24. However, since the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on June 24 this year, St. John the Baptist will give way for the Lord.

In a document issued by Most Rev. Victor B. Bendico, D.D., Chairman of the CBCP – Episcopal Commission on Liturgy, the following instruction is stated: “In countries, dioceses, or cities, religious communities (and parishes) where St. John the Baptist is the patron, the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist will be celebrated on June 24, Friday. The annual celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will be on June 23, Thursday.”

The name “John” is the English form of “Iohannes”, the Latin form of the Greek name: Ἰωάννης (Iōannēs), and derived from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yôḥānān) meaning “Yahweh is gracious.” Others translate it as “Grace of God.” Born from parents who were both advance in years, John the Baptist is indeed a “grace of God” for Elizabeth and Zechariah, considering that Elizabeth was barren. Not only to his parents, John the Baptist also became a grace of God to the people, but despite of all his achievements, John remained humble.

We can learn three things from the famous lines of John the Baptist:

  1. Prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 3:4);

  2. Behold, the Lamb of God (John 1:36); and

  3. He must increase; I must decrease (John 3:30).

Prepare the way of the Lord

This line invites us to participate in the mission of the Church to the world. Instead of just waiting for the kingdom of God to come, let us make His Kingdom, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Let us make “lupa man ay langit na rin” as one Filipino expression goes.

We often hear this line associated to St. John the Baptist during advent, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley” (Isaiah 40:3-4). Like John the Baptist, we can prepare the way of the Lord by lifting the downcast, by lowering down our indifferences, and by smoothing our rugged relationship with one another.

Behold, the Lamb of God

The first chapter of the Gospel written by St. John tells us, “The next day John [the Baptist] was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). In this story, John the Baptist introduced Andrew and the other apostle to Jesus. The following day, Andrew introduced Simon to Jesus and named him Peter. It then became a chain effect: Philip introduced Nathanael of Cana, also known as Bartholomew to Jesus (Jn. 1:45). Fast forward, Andrew and Philip played a big role in introducing the boy with five loaves and two fishes to Jesus in the story of the multiplication of the loaves (Jn. 6:1-15), and in introducing the Greeks to Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22).

Like St. John the Baptist, let us also introduce Jesus to others. Let us tell other people of our experiences of God’s love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. Imagine the chain effect: Nathanael and Peter’s lives were changed because Philip and Andrew introduced them to Jesus, while Jesus was introduced to Philip and Andrew by John the Baptist.

He must increase; I must decrease

This famous line, and the other words of St. John the Baptist recorded in the Gospels teaches us one thing: humility. St. Luke tells us, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah” (Lk. 3:15). However, St. John the Baptist remain humble saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals” (Lk. 3:16).

According to another Gospel, when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Messiah” (Jn. 1:19-20). John further said, “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie” (Jn. 1:26-27).

In the fourth Gospel, the author tells us that St. John the Baptist’s finals words are the following, “No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said [that] I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So, this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:27-30). This is the main reason why in most of the statues/images of St. John the Baptist, he is pointing at Christ.

St. John the Baptist is like a road sign. We know that a road sign gives direction, but does not get too much attention for itself. The road sign is there to show us the way, and once its purpose is fulfilled, it will just stay on the sidelines. Like a road sign, John pointed to Jesus, the Way to the Father.

Added to all of these, St. John the Baptist exhibits simplicity. We were told that “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” (Mt. 3:4). He does not live in luxury. In the Gospel of Luke, John even gave advice to the tax collectors and soldiers so that they will not practice greed, corruption, and extortion. He said, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed,” and to the soldiers, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages” (Lk. 3:12-14).

Inspired by the humility of St. John the Baptist, let us imitate him. Let us make this line our motto in whatever task we do: “He must increase; I must decrease.”

Powerful Prayer to

Saint John the Baptist

O God, You raised up St. John the Baptist to prepare a perfect person for Christ. We call upon St. John’s intercession to properly prepare us with a true sense of repentance to receive Your grace and salvation. Make us faithful to Truth and justice, as You did Your servant, John the Baptist, herald of Your Son’s birth and death. Lord, may You increase Your life within us. Amen.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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