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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Among Those Born of a Woman, There is No Greater Man

St. John the Baptist

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2018
Good Samaritan Hospital Chapel, West Islip, NY

Today we celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Among those born of a woman, there is no man greater, Jesus told His disciples. And the Church celebrates only three persons' birthdays in its calendar, the nativities of John, Jesus and the Blessed Mother.

The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he would have a son, and would name him, John, which means "God is gracious."
(Luke 1:8-23) Even while John was still in his mother's womb, he recognized the presence of Jesus, leaping when he heard His Mother's voice greeting Elizabeth. 

This is the moment John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin. The angel Gabriel had previously promised Zechariah that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even while in the womb (Luke 1:15). When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)

John left his parents to live the life of a prophet in the desert. He preached in the desert, wearing a garment of camel-skin and eating locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6; Matt 3:4). He proclaimed the kingdom of God and
a coming judgment, and invited people to accept baptism as a sign of their repentance.

His ministry resembled that of the prophets in that he disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed. He said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution? Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance and do not presume to tell yourselves we have Abraham as our father.” (Luke 3:7-8)

His message moved people. Some of the most despised of the powerful did repent. Tax-collectors asked him what they must do and he replied, “Exact no more than the appointed rate.” (Luke 3:13) Soldiers also repented, and his advice to them was “No intimidation! No Extortion! Be content with your pay!” (Luke 3:14) His message spread far and wide. Mark says all Jerusalem and Judea made their way to him and as they were baptized in the Jordan they confessed their sins (Mark 1:5).

We see John’s humility when he directed people to Jesus. People began to wonder if John was the Messiah so he told them he was not. He declared that his ministry was preparing for the coming of the Messiah,
“I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8) 

When Jesus came to John asking for baptism, John recognized Jesus at once and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God who takes
away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) These words have found their way into the prayer of Mass; when the priest holds up the Sacred Host as we prepare for Holy Communion he says, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” 

Jesus began his public ministry after he had been baptized by John. The Jews had the expectation that the prophet Elijah would return to earth once again to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. And Jesus pointed to John as that Elijah type person they were expecting (Mark 9:13). After Jesus’ baptism, we see again John's humility as he declared about Jesus: “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30) We are reminded of this as we celebrate John’s birthday after the summer solstice as the daylight will now decrease. We celebrate Jesus' birthday after the winter solstice when the daylight will increase.

We see John's courage in condemning Herod's adulterous "marriage." This a reminder to us that not everything that is allowed by law is morally right, e.g. divorce and abortion. Herod had John arrested and put in prison. John stood up for the truth and unfortunately like many who stand up for the truth today he had to pay a price. John’s
John in prison
courage in upholding the dignity of marriage and condemning the adulterous relationship of Herod and Herodias was to result in his death by beheading in prison.

History repeats itself, and John's beheading is  echoed in the life of another martyr for marriage, St. Thomas More. He was born in London in 1478. He studied law and entered Parliament in 1504. When no offspring resulted from the marriage of Henry VIII and his wife Katherine of Arag√≥n, Henry divorced her and married Anne Boleyn so that there would be heirs to the throne. Parliament passed a law forcing clergy to acknowledge Henry as the supreme head of the Church.

Shortly afterwards Thomas More resigned his post as Lord Chancellor. He was aware that just because something is lawful, it does not mean it is morally right. On April 14th, 1534 he was summoned to Lambeth and asked to take the oath to the king as supreme head of the Church in England. He refused and was
St Thomas More arrested & taken to the Tower of London
imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was tried for treason in Wesminister Hall and found guilty. He was beheaded on July 6th, 1535. His final words were, “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935.

John’s courage in giving his life for the truth challenges us in a time when it is not popular to speak or live by the truth. Both he and St. Thomas More remind us that just because certain behavior is enshrined in the law of the land does not mean that it is morally right. John turning his focus on Jesus and away from himself reminds us to do the same in our lives. Each of us is called to decrease so that Jesus may increase in each of us. St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

Fr Joe Mungai is trying to find drink for the thirsty in Central Kenya — Gatura,Thigio in Kiambu County. To read about this important project go to A Deep Down Thirst

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