|John the Baptist in Prison by Juan Fernandez de Navarrete|
I have read this Gospel reading countless times in my life. (Read? Yes. Heeded? Not often enough) Just to show that Our Lord speaks through His living Word I'll tell you what I received from this reading THIS time...for me it is a gift.
Normally when I've read this passage I have focused on the fact that Jesus called His disciples and THEY left their nets. Good for them, right? Naturally, being fishermen, this speaks of the fact that they were willing to give up their livelihood (and their family expectations) to follow Our Lord. The thing I have missed is the little snippet at the beginning about John the Baptist. After all St. John the Baptist had, "played his role" and "done his part" already. Now all he had to do was bow to the executioner and call it quits. In previous readings St. John the Baptist had already said:
"He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29-30
The Lord showed me that faithfulness to His call can often look VERY different for all of us at various times in life.
A question arose in my mind: wasn't John serving the Lord in prison? Wasn't he about whom Jesus Christ had said:
"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." Matthew 11:11
Of course. John the Baptist had his prayers answered. He did decrease and Our Lord Jesus did INCREASE! A, "what if" arose in my mind that some of St. John the Baptist's disciples became disciples of Jesus. Consider, had John not been been "decreasing" had he not, in fact, been arrested it would have been considerably more difficult for his disciples to become followers of Jesus Christ. He did, in fact, "Prepare the way of the Lord..." and he did so in the ears and hearts of his own disciples. When John the Baptist said,
"As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,Is not John referring to the very hearts and minds of his own disciples who heard these words above? A way of looking at this is, we do not, in fact, expect to 1) Hear a voice in the wilderness 2) Every valley to be filled 3) Every mountain and hill to be brought low 4) Crooked to be made straight nor the 5) Rough ways made smooth! In fact we would not be expecting much of what Jesus Christ had to say. John's disciples were not likely expecting to follow Jesus at all! Imagine their distress at their master being taken away.
'The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Luke 3:4-6
In the end, what I've taken from this episode is that St. John the Baptist by the Jordan AND in prison was fulfilling the will of God perfectly. I realize that I often consider that SOME people in the Church have a much less significant role and some have a much more significant role. Yet, no "role" that you or I play in our lives is insignificant at all! If each one of us is simply taking God's Word to us to heart we are PRECISELY where we are meant to be. Naturally, we must always be prepared to, "cast aside our nets" and, of course, take our crosses daily to follow Jesus. But we MUST NOT consider, even for a moment, that we are not as essential to the mission of God simply because we think ourselves, "unknown" and perhaps even cast aside in the various, "prisons" of our lives. Much of the disciples experience of Jesus Christ was "flavored" by the passing role...the passing away...of St. John the Baptist. In the end, it is truly our smallness that equates to our greatness in the eyes of God. We are weak, frail, powerless and entirely unable to save ourselves. We must allow our Lord to "raise our valleys" and "topple our mountains" and grant us the unsurpassed gift of faith.
Consider the above as you read today's Gospel:
"After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Then they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him ." Mark 1:13-20