Friend of the Bridegroom
Saint John the Baptist is one of the few saints who is mentioned many times in the liturgy. In the church year we celebrate both his birth – June 24, and martyrdom – August 29. He is also, next to Mary, one of the leading figures during Advent …
The Evangelists recall the story of his long-awaited birth, accompanied by signs of power from on high (Lk 1: 5 – 25, 39 – 40; 57 – 80). We see John on the Jordan instructing, baptizing, and pointing to the Messiah (Lk 3: 1-18; Mt 3: 1-12; Mk 1: 1-8; Jn 1: 19-31). He himself confesses that he is not and describes himself as “the voice of one crying in the desert.” As the Savior’s predecessor and the last of the Old Testament prophets, fully devoted to the mission entrusted to him, he participates in the revelation of the Three Divine Persons at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan (Lk 3: 21-22; Mt 3: 13-17; Mk 1: 9-11; John 1, 32-34). He is the greatest of women born, as Jesus himself described him. This prophet is a very humble man. Although he came from a priestly family, he lives simple, radical and ascetic. As a Nazirite of God, he feeds and dresses modestly. He moves away to the desert. His lifestyle didn’t seem very appealing. Yet “all the land of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were drawn to him.” When disputes and conjectures arise around the person of John in connection with the commencement of Jesus’ public ministry, he calls himself a friend of the Bridegroom and announces his departure: “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3: 29-30).
The figure of St. John the Baptist is very close to the consecrated life. Today, we are a sign to the world as long as we live the mission to which the Lord called us. Through vows and community life, we show that it is possible to be together despite differences in age, characters, interests and abilities. Looking at our ordinary life in chastity, poverty and obedience, undertaken out of love for the Bridegroom, people can find God’s closeness in everyday life and open themselves to His graces in the Church, despite many difficult experiences. The prophetic dimension of our lives helps to recognize the primacy of God in obedience to his commandments and the newness of the Gospel. By living in chastity, we show lay people the value of fidelity in the family, marriage and the dignity of every human person. Life in poverty, on the other hand, directs the human gaze to God, the source of all good. In this witness of life, we also strengthen one another in communities. John the Baptist, although he seems to be a loner, created a community with his students. However, he did not tie them to himself, but sent them back to Jesus. Some of John’s disciples later became Apostles.
Looking at the figure of St. John the Baptist is especially troubled by the subject of admonition. It is Herod’s admonition, Herodias’ envy and naivety mixed with the demoralization of young Salome that lead to the death of the prophet (Mt 14: 1-12; Mk 6: 17-29). When reprimanding others, one can sometimes pay a very high price, even if we do it for the common good, for the good of the reproached person. It was not only John who rebuked the ruler, many prophets did so. Usually, reprimanding was associated with an unfavorable reaction of the addressees. King David reacted exceptionally to the words of admonition from the prophet Nathan when, after sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah the Hittite of the Ammonites with the sword, he heard the explanation of the parable about the rich man taking the only lamb from the poor, repented and took the trouble to convert (2 Samuel 12: 1-16). Much depends on the heart. The warnings of the Book of Wisdom proved correct in both cases: “Do not scold the mocker lest he hate you, rebuke the wise one and he will love you” (Wis 9: 8). Jesus himself teaches us about fraternal rebuke, in the sequence of actions taken – first in private, then in front of the witnesses, and finally by the superiors (Mt 18: 15-20). How much is this order to be kept in mind when practicing admonition, which in itself is never pleasant. It requires courage and delicacy, humility and love, clarity of expression, specific approach to facts and respect for the person rebuked. From the catechism we know the works of mercy in the body and in the soul. Each of them is of great value in the eyes of God. To admonish sinners is the first of the soul’s works of mercy – perhaps the most difficult. Unfortunately, neglecting it may expose us to share in other people’s sins, which are also mentioned in the catechism, for example: keep silent when seeing other people’s sins; to permit the sins of others; being able not to prevent someone else’s sins. We also deal with the issue of rebuke in our religious documents.
Working with children and young people, I have repeatedly found out about the value of admonishing with love in the care of the pupils. I also notice a beautiful feature of young people that we often lose with age – openness to the kind remarks of the educator and the ability to change. Thanks to this, I understand more clearly the words of the Lord Jesus, in which it is precisely children who are placed for us by a model to follow in faith and trust in God (Mt 18: 3). Coming back to John the Baptist, the last word of Jesus comes to mind: “Among those born of women, no greater has arisen than John the Baptist. But the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he ”(Mt 11:11). There is hope for us in these words …
Sr. Michaela Musiał