12-11-19 - Greatest and Least

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

We have spent quite a few days in this space thinking about John the Baptist – who he was, why he was the way he was, what impact he had. Many people thought he was the Messiah, or an incarnation of the prophet Elijah – until Herod imprisoned and later had him executed at the whim of his step-daughter. John truly was a holy man, and Jesus speaks of him as such: 
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”

And then he says something even more extraordinary: 
“…yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

What was that about valleys being lifted up and mountains brought low, the lowly being exalted and the “mighty cast down from their thrones?” Here is Jesus, articulating again that equalizing quality of the realm of God – that equalizing which was so challenging to people in his own day, and has remained so in the thousands of years since.

To say that “the first will be last, and the last first,” that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to “little children,” that the least “important” member of the household of God is greater than a saint like John – that’s radical. That’s a challenge to those who feel themselves to be important. And it’s an invitation to those who don’t.

Can you imagine yourself greater than a prophet like John the Baptist? Can you imagine yourself as valuable, as worthy of honor? Because Jesus says that’s what is – that those who consider themselves “least in the kingdom of heaven” are that valuable, that worthy, that remarkable, that beloved.

My spiritual suggestion for today is to simply sit with that idea, of being that important in the realm of God. No one is more important than you. Try that on. How does it make you sit? Walk? Talk? Think?

Write down some of the reasons why you are so valuable in God’s eyes. It’s important for us to know, to claim, not so we can become big-headed, but so we can give God the glory. That’s what we’re here for – to glorify God in how we live and give.

Of course it’s not a popularity contest or a competition. You knowing yourself to be that worthy doesn’t diminish the importance of John the Baptist – he’s the one who said, as Jesus’ ministry grew more public, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

I don’t know the man, but I can imagine the smile on John’s face growing bigger the more we recognize our worthiness in the eyes of God. I can imagine him looking at Jesus and nodding. “Okay, now we’re getting somewhere…”

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