John the Baptist said, ‘The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.’
The one who comes from above is above us all.
We live in strange times when it comes to matters of authority. We know that society needs structure if it is to thrive. We also know that that structure tends to be hierarchical in nature, that there is a need for generals just as there is a need for privates. In other words, we know that we have an equal need for trained and experienced leaders whom we can trust to exercise authority wisely and for the good of all, and for the many faithful followers who are prepared to be led into creating a healthy and fully-functioning society. Of course, all this sounds eminently sensible to most people but … for this model to work there needs to be both compliance and humility.
Superficial study of world history would suggest that, in earlier times, compliance and humility were not the issue they are today. But … we should never forget that we are reading history as recorded by the powerful and the successful. Ordinary people have always struggled with the notion of meek obedience, particularly when it entails discomfort, pain and self-sacrifice. Sometimes that struggle has led to bloody revolution and ruthless suppression. At other times, a demoralised majority has been cowed into compliance through fear and violence. Humanity was given free-will by God and does not give up that free-will lightly.
In today’s reading we hear John the Baptist guiding us away from the path of disobedience and rebellion. Instead of relying solely on our own wisdom and resources John tells us that there is a better course to steer. John was the herald of the Messiah, the One who existed before this world was created; the One whose rightful place is at God’s right hand; the One who models the perfect way to co-exist in this troubled and divided world; the One who set aside his own glory and power for the greater good of humanity, his own wondrous creation.
We live in times of both great freedom and much constraint. We often speak of our ‘rights’, but we rarely temper such speech with a reflection upon our responsibilities. Today John the Baptist is reminding us that there is One against whom we should never rebel, and whose will for humanity should be our unwavering top priority. Two thousand years ago God himself stepped into our world and gave us the perfect route map to lead us into the closest of relationships with Him.
Let us pray for the wisdom, the courage and the strength to don the cloak of humility and faithfully follow where the One who is above all leads.