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Greater Than John the Baptist? . . . Really?


Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” ~ William Shakespeare

Eye-opening words from Jesus in today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:11-15) wherein the Son of Man tells the throngs in his midst “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Every Monday and Saturday Morning, while reflecting upon the Visitation of the Blessed Mother to Elizabeth by way of the 2nd Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, I find myself in amazement at the fact that these two pregnant women, during this very real moment in time, were on the verge of giving birth to arguably the two most important men to ever walk the Earth. We certainly know that Jesus was the most important. A strong case can be made for John the Baptist securing the two spot. He is most certainly a beloved, heroic, and favorite biblical figure of mine, a man I admire in equal parts for his courage, his passion and his quirkiness

How can the least in the Kingdom of Heaven be greater than John the Baptist?

Jesus was never one to be terribly hung up on the notion of greatness. Never did he boast of his own. We know that Jesus did not view equality with God as something to be grasped, this despite the fact that he existed in the form of God (Philippians 2:6). So why was this particular lesson important? And how can we, sinful, selfish and secular by nature, be deemed greater than John the Baptist, assuming we are found worthy of entering the Kingdom of Heaven after having breathed our last?

It’s important to first define the word greatness. Coretta Scott King once remarked that “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” Henry Ward Beecher said “Greatness lies not in being strong but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.” Not to be outdone, James E. Faust believed that “A grateful heart is the beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.”

John the Baptist possessed these qualities; compassion, unselfishness and humility, along with the aforementioned spiritual gifts. We too must seek them in our lives if we aspire to greatness. But John the Baptist did something else. He gave up his life for Jesus In dying to ourselves, we too can achieve greatness. But it is a greatness that is attributed entirely to God and His grace, one that is certainly not of our own doing. It is God’s most ardent desire to lavish these graces upon all of his children. Seek them with fervor and resolve via the Eucharist, time spent in Adoration and by way of Sacred Scripture. They are yours to be had. And they are the golden and bejeweled steps that will lead you to greatness.

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To use this life well is the pathway through death to everlasting life.” ~ Saint John Almond

John the Baptist baptizing the Lord Jesus in the Jordan River.

John the Baptist baptizing the Lord Jesus in the Jordan River.

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