Monday, July 16, 2012
Transparent and clearly seen...
John jumped in his mother's womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came to visit – a clear sign of faith and of the intersection of the lives of John and Jesus. John was given a special name for his prophetic purpose just like Jesus received a special name by God. John stirred up the countryside and city with the call to repent for the Kingdom of God was near. John met Jesus in the waters of the Jordan and there the hidden Jesus was revealed to begin His public ministry of bringing that promised Kingdom to fulfillment.
John passed off his disciples to Jesus and when they were reluctant to leave him, John told them to ask Jesus if He was the one to come or not. John was then content to fade into the background so that Jesus would be front and center (He must increase, I must decrease). John's personal righteousness led Jesus to hold him up as the greatest prophet. John was Elijah whose presence marked the beginning the Messianic reign. Then, when it seemed that John could slip into the elder statesman status of prophet emeritus to watch God's plan of salvation unfold, we hear this story of lies, deceit, and death.
The death of John was no accident. It was planned. Herod the Great had 10 wives and at least 9 sons. Herodias had married one and then married another, Herod Antipas, on her way up the ladder of power. Antipas was already married but that did not matter. He may have loved her but she loved power more and used her beautiful daughter to make sure she got what she wanted. The Jews hated him, in part because he built Tiberias on Jewish burial grounds but Herod, either out of faith or fear, was slow to antagonize John even when John publicly condemned Herodias’ marriage. So when the time was right, John was arrested and would have been left in prison but Herodias saw her opportunity to kill her thorn.
Jesus came to Galilee condemning Herod the fox but insisting John was no reed shaken by the wind. John’s witness to Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world did not waver. Of all born of woman, Jesus said John was greatest. But John sought no glory or fame. He lived for the Kingdom of God – to announce that it was near, to point to the One who brought it, then to become transparent so that only the Kingdom of God and its bearer Christ might be seen.
The Kingdom of God comes not by glory but by suffering. John suffered as Elijah in life and then an ignominious death – all for the sake of the Kingdom. Yet his death is not some sad defeat but He was faithful unto death and we know the promise given to those faithful unto death, they receive the crown of everlasting righteousness and life.
All our suffering is made clear in Christ. His triumph is born of suffering and His death becomes the source of our life. Even in our suffering, Christ is triumphant. That is why we are here today. We bring our defeats, our scars, and our wounds hoping and praying that it is not in vain. I look across the scorched fields and into faces of disappointment. So much labor and so little hope of gain. What we see most clearly are these things. But what John tells us is that only when we are transparent and Christ is clear, does life have meaning and purpose. As tempted as we are to see life in terms of our gains and losses, we would be wrong. John saw what physical eyes hardly ever see. The Kingdom of God is ours even in the midst of suffering, pain, and loss. Christ is ours and we are Christ’s. When we fade away and Christ is center, then we everything.
The world may insist that your treasure lies in what can be seen or done or what people think of you. John shows us the truth. The only memory that counts and the only treasure that counts is the Kingdom of God which Christ ushers in by His suffering and death. We are here today with the prayer that this Kingdom be our greatest treasure, that Christ may increase and we decrease, that what God began in our baptism may come to fulfillment – that we die and Christ live in us and through us. Like St. Paul reminds us, we have died with Christ. We no longer live but Christ in us.
Our greatest witness to the world is that we do not fear becoming transparent and Christ becoming the focus, we are not afraid of decreasing so that Christ may increase, and that we gladly grasp hold of the treasure of Christ’s kingdom even if it means letting go of the things of this world. When we find contentment in this transparency and focus all on Christ, the world sees the glorious Kingdom which John proclaimed and Jesus fulfilled by His death and resurrection. From John we learn that death and loss mean nothing in the face of Christ’s life and His eternal gain.
John was no superhero or a superman. He was like you and me. But His witness was clear. I am not the One – I am not worthy to stoop down and tie His sandal. The Greater One was always John’s concern. So it is for you and me. John was content in faith to be transparent that Christ may be clear. That is why we are here today. To learn this truth, to live this truth, to die in this truth.
When Christ is clearest and we are most transparent, then is when we have the most to give the world. It is shown in our actions of love and mercy, in our confidence amid uncertainty, in our hope amid suffering, in our last hour when death comes near. In life and in death, we faithfully point to Christ. It might be good to remember what else Jesus said. John was greatest of all those born of woman but he who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than even John. When we are transparent and Christ is all, we are greatest. We have lost nothing at all – not to doubt, not to drought, not to defeat, and not even to death. Because we live in Christ and Christ lives in us by baptism and faith, we live forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.