3rd Sunday of Advent, 13 December, 2020: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
John the Baptist has something very important to tell us about discipleship, about the spiritual life: he knows who he is not.
Unfortunately we live in a world urging us to label ourselves, selling us ways to define or re-invent ourselves. How often do we assume an identity to maneuver around each other without colliding? So no one else can have an impact on me?
The French used to say, the habit doesn’t make the monk. The habit may be able to remind the monk what he has publically professed, the consistency of behavior and the boundaries expected of him; it may allow a stranger to invest a certain trust in him. But a monastic habit can never tell me who I am and what I am about.
I must first know who I am not; I must own the inconsistencies, the gap between who I appear to be and how I actually react, respond, embrace or evade my responsibilities. I can never afford to believe that the role I play is who I actually am.
Discovering who I am is a life-long process, not an image I can admire in a mirror.
John the Baptist, like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, or like Mark the Evangelist, all came from priestly families, yet we see them nowhere near a Temple career. I wonder whether they were alienated by career priests who defined themselves by their roles. Were they looking for a more authentic way of life for themselves? Because they knew who they were not, were they ready to recognize Jesus?
Not everyone did. Think of the rich young man who backed off when Jesus invited him to radical discipleship. I suspect he believed that he actually was the good deeds and righteous practices he performed; he had not learnt who he was not.
Doesn’t John the Baptist provide a brilliant answer to the question, Who are you? He says, I am the voice of one crying out in the desert. Think about that. That’s not a defined role but an evocative description; an unfolding, communicative, fleeting image. A voice is a responsive vehicle; it plays itself out. Dwell with that image today. Recall when you’ve heard a voice in the wilderness. What in your life is like that?