Everybody is somebody JOHN 1:6–8,19-28
By Abbot John Pereira OSB
“I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap (Jn 1:26–27).
‘Know thyself’ is an ancient Greek aphorism and often attributed to the philosopher Socrates.
This is the key to a happy life. It is a warning not to be guided by popular opinion in determining our identity. We need to go beyond what people say about us and come to a deeper consciousness of who we truly are.
John the Baptist knew himself. He also knew who he was not. He knew that he was not the Christ. He knew that he was not Elijah. However, he also knew that he was “a voice that cries in the wilderness”. And he was proud of it.
The pathway to true happiness is to come to an understanding of who you are and to accept it with joy.
The third Sunday of Advent is referred to as “Laetare” Sunday (‘laetare’ is Latin for ‘rejoice’) because of the theme of joy in the readings and because we are more than halfway through Advent and coming close to Christmas. In the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation, Isaiah declares: “I exult for joy in the Lord.” Paul tells the Thessalonians to “Be happy at all times”. The Baptist is humbly confident in the Coming One whom he announces.
One of the ways, if not the most important way for us to attain this joy is to know oneself and to accept oneself. John the Baptist is a wonderful example of one who truly knew himself.
“If a man is born in luxury, they prove to me through history, he is somebody. And if a man is born in poverty, starvation and misery, he is nobody. Everybody is somebody …nobody is nobody…. the pauper or the wealthy. Everybody is somebody.”
These words of the Mighty Shadow in his popular 1977 classic tell us everything we need to know about God, about Jesus, about Advent and about John the Baptist.
Everybody is somebody. It is the story of the Book of Genesis: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” And again, “God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good”.
The quality that stands out most in the life of John the Baptist is his humility. “I baptise with water; but there stands among you—unknown to you—the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.”
The word ‘humble’ comes from the Latin ‘humus’ meaning ‘earth’. The truly humble person is one who is rooted or earthed in an understanding of self.
John knew that he was not the Christ, but he also knew who he was. He knew that he did not baptise with the Holy Spirit. He was merely baptising with water. And he was comfortable with that. He was not trying to be someone who he was not.
Although he was only baptising with water, he knew that he was “somebody”. As the Mighty Shadow sang in 1977: “Everybody is somebody… nobody is nobody.”
This is the essence of humility.
Heavenly Father, I trust in You. There are times that I feel that I am ‘nobody’ just because I am not like ‘somebody’ else. I thank You for giving me the example of John the Baptist, who knew that although he was not the Christ and not Elijah and not the Prophet, he was still ‘somebody’. Give me the grace to accept myself just as You made me and to know that I am not ‘nobody’, but that I am always ‘somebody’. Amen.
The gospel reflections for December are by Abbot John Pereira OSB of the Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict.