Reality is continually asking us questions. It always asks us to choose. And, through our decisions, we show who we truly are. It’s a process we can’t back out of.
Once in a while we may feel a desire to escape from this unavoidable call to manifest who we truly are. How many times does the thought of leaving home never to return again cross our mind? How many times have we felt inadequate in comparison to what the world asks of us? How many times have we wanted to hide the traces of our failures?
When listening to those who come to me for spiritual direction, what comes out of all the troubling experiences they’ve lived through is a deep desire of escape. And yet, the questions that reality asks us, as uncomfortable as they may be, help us to build up our true identity. Not the fake profile that we all, unavoidably, put on display for others on social media. Not the one we create using only pictures of ourselves smiling, after having been to the hairdresser or after having forced our grandmother to pose hugging us so that we could post an adorable picture. No, our authentic profile, the one we build with our authentic selves and with our failures, our successes, and our doubts.
John the Baptist is the man who is unafraid of reality’s questions and to let himself be seen as he truly is: he recognizes his limits (“I am not”), he admits that he is not the protagonist (“I am the voice of one crying out…”), he confesses his dependence on someone else (“I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal”).
Regarding the rampant narcissism of our times, in which we must necessarily be the center of attention and we are only worth anything if we are at the top of the pile, John the Baptist presents himself as the anti-narcissist. He recognizes the difference between himself and others; he recognizes his role of service for another: he is not the light, but the witness of the light; he is not the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom; he his not the Word, but the voice of the Word.
John the Baptist finds his identity in service so that another can develop his own role. This is a far cry from our culture plagued by the desire for stardom.
John the Baptist is a man that does not need to be the center of attention: he knows how to step aside; he goes into the desert; he leaves the temple of power and security behind. He distances himself to the point of risking not being seen at all.
It is precisely in this way that he is able to start a cultural revolution. John the Baptist is in effect a protester who, with his life, questions others about their own. John the Baptist does not dress in priestly clothing, despite having the right to belong to the priestly cast; he does not live in the exalted place reserved for priests. He makes people ask questions rather than provide prefabricated answers. John is dressed in the most basic way because only his message has importance: what is most important is the Word he bears, not himself.
At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, the Pharisees, along with the priests and the Levites, show courage enough to ask questions and seek the truth, but little by little, as the Gospel goes on and they discover that truth is uncomfortable, they progressively cease to ask questions. Perhaps we too have become a little fearful of asking questions and we settle for what we already know or for what we are told. Have we stopped seeking and no longer use the question mark, substituting it for its arch-enemy? Do we only have certainties and give only orders? Do we no longer ask for others’ opinions but give only our own advice? We have become impassioned users of the exclamation point!
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.
I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.
The Word of the Lord
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.
And this is the testimony of John. 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 Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'” as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but 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.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing
The Gospel of the Lord
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