A few years ago, after the Std X results had been declared, I went to visit some friends of mine whose daughter had just appeared for that examination. I knew her to be a girl who has always got good marks all through her academic career, and so was surprised when her mother on opening the door to my knock began to tell me how she felt so let down by her daughter. The manner in which she was moaning her fate led me to conclude that the girl had failed. I responded with what I thought were words of consolation saying that failure was not the end of the world and that her daughter could apply to have her papers reevaluated and that if that did not work, she could appear again and surely pass. She was taken aback when I mentioned failure and informed me that her daughter had passed and has scored 86% marks. This time I was surprised and asked her what she was complaining about. She replied that she was complaining because her neighbour’s daughter had scored 86.50%. After being stunned for a moment, I asked her whether she would have been happy if her daughter had scored 75% (less than the marks she had actually scored) and her neighbour’s daughter had scored 74.50%. She replied with an emphatic “Yes, I would have been very happy.” The moral of this incident is that comparisons are extremely dangerous and will tend to consume the person who engages in them. It is related to the Gospel text of today.
The example of John the Baptist shows us that true personal fulfilment and greatness lies not in how we may compare with others but in how faithful we are to our God-given roles in life. John is a rare example of someone who was clear about what his role in life was and went about fulfilling that role with sincerity and courage. He was able to identify Jesus and witness to him, because he was secure in himself. This security and self acceptance led him to see in and witness to Jesus the Lamb of God, the preexistent one, the vehicle of the Sprit and the Chosen One of God. John was content and satisfied with playing the second fiddle rather than vying with Jesus for the limelight. He did not feel the need to compare himself negatively with Jesus and thus feel bad about himself. He could do this because he knew exactly the reason for him being in the world. He knew why he came into this life: “but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to
”. Since he knew the reason for his existence and his place in the world, John could tell when he had done what was required of him. He could tell when it was time to hand the baton to another. Israel
In the second reading of today Paul states that the call of each one who is Christian is to be a saint. A saint or someone who has been sanctified literally means someone who has been set apart. This means that no matter how tall or short we are, or how thin or fat we are we are called like the Psalmist of today to keep responding, “Here I am, Lord! I have come to do your will.” If we do not realize this, the chances are that we will spend the whole of our lives chasing after everything and nothing, in a rat-race of envy, jealousy and comparison with those we perceive as better than us. Instead of living and working in harmony and cooperation with others, those who do not know the reason for their being are often driven by rivalry and competition.
Nature offers us a very practical lesson in this regard. A dog does not try to be a cat, nor does a sunflower try to be a rose. Each is what it is. Each has its own beauty and uniqueness and glorifies in it. John the Baptist is before us as a great example in the Ordinary time of the year of what it means to be ordinary and of what it means to know our unique place and role in the world. In Jesus, however, we have a better example than even John. Conscious as he was that he was God’s chosen one, he was also aware that like the prophetic figure whom Isaiah speaks about in the first reading of today, he would become so by being servant. In this manner he would complete his role on earth which was to restore the tribes of
and become the light to all nations. Israel