Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John….” But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).

John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life.

His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic.

The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (chapters 49 through 53). John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.

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  1. Litany in Honour of Saint John the Baptist:

    Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us.
    Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
    God the Father of Heaven, Have mercy on us.
    God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
    God the Holy Ghost, Have mercy on us.
    Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.

    Holy Mary, pray for us.
    Queen of Prophets, pray for us.
    Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.

    Saint John the Baptist,
    …pray for us.
    …precursor of Christ, pray for us.
    …glorious forerunner of the Son of Justice, pray for us.
    …minister of baptism to Jesus, pray for us.
    …burning and shining lamp of the world, pray for us.
    …angel of purity before thy birth, pray for us.
    …special friend and favourite of Christ, pray for us.
    …heavenly contemplative, whose element was prayer, pray for us.
    …intrepid preacher of truth, pray for us.
    …voice crying in the wilderness, pray for us.
    …miracle of mortification and penance, pray for us.
    …example of profound humility, pray for us.
    …glorious martyr of zeal for God’s holy law, pray for us.
    …gloriously fulfilling thy mission, pray for us.

    Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
    Spare us, O Lord.
    Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
    Hear us, O Lord.
    Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
    Have mercy on us.

    Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.

    V. Pray for us, O glorious Saint John the Baptist,
    R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
    Let Us Pray; O God, Who hast honoured this world by the birth of Saint John the Baptist, grant that Thy faithful people may rejoice in the way of eternal salvation,
    through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.


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