First & Second Finding of the Venerable Head of John the Baptist
Today the Church commemorates Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner, who prepared the way for Jesus Christ. Like the Old Testament prophets, he spoke of One who was to come. But, unlike the prophets, he was to live to hear the actual accounts of Jesus’ ministry although he did not witness it himself.
This forerunner is a bridge figure who stands between two worlds and does not totally belong to either. He dwells in the wilderness, having separated himself from human society and is therefore often seen as a precursor of the monastic movement. His distance from society gives him an integrity, which means that his opinions and support cannot be bought by the highest bidder. He avoids the “fine raiment” of “kings’ houses,” which means that he is not dependent on being in their good books. As Saint John Chrysostom writes,
John was a man not easily swayed and fickle but steadfast and sure. He was far from being such as to betray the things committed to him.
Or, as Saint Gregory Dialogus writes,
John was no reed, shaken by the wind. No one’s pleasant attitude made him agreeable, and no one’s anger made him bitter.
In a world of materialism and consumerism, of advertising and constant media manipulation, Saint John the Baptist reminds that we need a firm place to stand where we will not be easily swayed by changing opinions and fashions. While we do not live in the desert or feed on locusts, we too need to develop an inner integrity that can withstand the pressures of the world around us.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 11:2-15:
At that time, when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”