[John] proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:7-8
I suspect that our culture really doesn’t like this kind of teaching very much. When I was in my early adult years, there were all kinds of self-help books that had been published in order to make us more confident, more self-aware, more sure of ourselves. I’m Okay; You’re Okay, How to Be Your Own Best Friend, Looking Out for Number One, and so forth were titles on my bookshelf. They DID help me build some self-confidence, but they also taught me that the only one that TRULY counted in this world was ME!
While there isn’t anything wrong with these books, as followers of Jesus, we need to pay attention to the messages that are bombarding us in the media. The messages are all self-serving, and many of them tell us that we aren’t good enough the way we are. John the Baptist didn’t have any self-esteem problems. He knew who he was and what his job or calling in life was: it was to pave the way for the Messiah.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that John was related to Jesus, but we don’t find that elsewhere. Even if he was Jesus’ cousin, he recognized that Jesus was the One sent from God and truly was God’s son. John had important work to do because he was a transistioner from the old order to the new. Like many prophets before him, his voice called out to Israel to repent and return to God. Yet, he also pointed the way to God and knew that a new era, a new covenant, new teachings about God would be incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
As the Church of Jesus Christ in the world, our job is to incarnate the presence of Jesus, the Christ, the risen son of God in the world through living his teachings, following his example, and carrying on his ministry in the world. It’s far too easy to be caught up in “the world” and ignore that we are called to live counter-culturally. Being compassionate, considerate, kind, caring, and going out of our way to help others can be seen in the world, and our work is to model that not only with each other in the church but also with complete strangers.
I try to do this and work hard at being considerate and polite, as well as friendly and generous. Time and time again, I’m treated with silence or suspicion from someone. For example, I had a cart full of purchases, and a person with two or three things was standing behind me, so I invited them to go in front of me. They were shocked, but they at least said thank you several times. That’s just one small example, and we have opportunities to make a difference to others in small things. Those random acts of kindness may actually cause a “pay it forward” type of domino effect.
When we care about others and show it, when we do something just because it’s a nice thing to do, when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give to those who are less fortunate than we are, AND when we do it because it’s what Jesus told us to do AND because we want to do it, we are paving the way for Christ to work in the world. It doesn’t matter whether the other person thanks us or not. Just do it!
The road map is given to us through the scriptures (check out Matthew 25!), as well as by reading about how Jesus reached out to others. We may not always be able to follow the road map perfectly, but we sure can give a good try and then keep on trying. Most roads were paved in one day! Someone (I forget where I read this – sorry) once said, “Where there is no path, blaze a trail!” God bless your journey!