“I AM NOT WORTHY…”
John the Baptist appears for the second time in this Sunday’s gospel. The Pharisees challenge him: “Why are you baptising, if you are not the Christ, not Elijah, not one of the prophets”?
Pharisees were clever people, they had studied the scriptures, they even prided themselves on being above the other professional holy people who observed the law carefully. They couldn’t see that even they needed to prepare for the coming of a unique person. Perhaps they thought they were perfect already…
John, of course, was not the unique One who was about to come. His response was: “I am not worthy even to untie his sandal strap”.
John’s words take us to the heart of preparing for the Lord’s coming. They remind me of the little girl who was just learning the responses at Mass. When it came to communion, she shouted out “Lord, I am not worth it….” A child’s mistake? Well, many people feel they are “not worth it”, not worth bothering about, they have nothing good to offer, whatever they do is worthless. They have what is called “low self-esteem”, because perhaps they have never known what it is to be loved – I think there is something of that in each of us.
What John the Baptist means is, not that he is worth-less, but that, compared to the Gift that was coming, he could never deserve it. Nothing we can ever do could merit the Love that we are preparing to receive, as though for the very first time.
“Can’t buy me love”, as the Beatles song goes. We certainly can’t buy, or deserve, the love that God shows by making himself small and coming to us as a tiny baby. No amount of learning or study, however many degrees we may have, or years we have spent at school or seminary, not even how many prayers we say or how devout we are in church, can make us good in the eyes of God. It is all grace, a free gift, given freely by God because He is love, the very source of love.
Perhaps that was the Pharisees’ mistake. They were so full of their own cleverness, so proud of what their brains had studied, that they thought God must love them more because of that.
St. Francis of Assisi had the right idea. He said: “A person is what he or she is in the eyes of God, no more and no less”. Well, God thinks enough of us to come among us with Love. It’s not what we deserve, but it is what God chooses to do. Only His love changes us from being “not worth it” to worthy – and we can never deserve the gift!
“In his love Christ has filled us with joy as we prepare to celebrate his birth, so that when he comes, he may find us watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise”.