Today in his Gospel, Jesus is speaking to the clergy and government leaders of the ancient People of God.
He tells them that obedience does not consist in saying the word, “Yes.”
Rather, obedience consists in doing the Father’s will.
The Father’s will is that we enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus upholds that we enter the kingdom of God by believing, for example, John the Baptist who came to us in the way of righteousness, preaching repentance, conversion, change of mind, justice before God and men.
Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest man ever born on earth.
For the first thousand years after Jesus honored John the Baptist, Christians had great devotion to John.
However, for the last thousand years, we Christians have forgotten the devotion that St. John the Baptist deserves to have from us.
In the ancient prayer for confessing ourselves sinners at Mass, the first saint we name to pray for us is the Blessed Virgin Mary; the second is the Archangel Michael; the third is a man, St. John the Baptist.
In the ancient Litany of the Saints, the same order happens: the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Archangel Michael, and then St. John the Baptist.
In Christianity of the East, the paintings of the saints in heaven praying for us show the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist in the first places to the right and the left of Christ.
In Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” fresco painting in the Sistine Chapel, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist are the first to the right and left of Christ the Almighty Judge.
To this day, the only human persons whose birthdays are on the Church calendar are the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
In the words of Jesus, St. John the Baptist was the greatest man ever born on earth.
Nonetheless, Jesus also said it is a greater thing to be born into the kingdom of God.
St. John preached the repentance necessary for entering the kingdom.
In that way, St. John the Baptist made people ready to welcome the preaching, the work and the person of Jesus.
In the measure of eternity, what greater thing could be said of a man than that he made people ready to receive God?
To welcome Jesus is to obey him with the lives we choose to live.
To say it with the Word of God from the second reading today:
at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven
and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The same Word of God tells me that my life should bend for Jesus in order to “complete my joy.”
The readings from God today— as they always do in some way— stretch our lives between the sadness of sin at one end and joy of God’s kingdom at the other end.
The second reading from God today also tells us about stretching away from sin and stretching towards the kingdom.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also for those of others.
The reading continues by singing the way of Christ Jesus.
... Christ Jesus...
though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found in human appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this,
God greatly exalted him....
He rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and is seated, exalted, at the right hand of the Father.
We do find it is hard work to bend and stretch our lives to ascend with Christ into the kingdom of God.
What is at stake is our own complete and everlasting joy.
The way there is the way of Jesus, who today in his Gospel also says it is the way of John the Baptist, “the way of righteousness.”
The “way of righteousness” is Biblical shorthand for giving both God and neighbor all that they justly deserve from us.
That kind of righteousness or justice is not always pleasant or pleasurable.
However, it is the only way that always digs and builds for real joy.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all things shall be yours.” [Mt. 6:33]
Today, as always, in some deep way, the Eucharist always fleshes out the Word of God.
Here is Christ Jesus, who, though he is God, takes the form of a slave, humbling himself, becoming obedient to the point of dying to be the food of sinners.
In his Body and Blood, he obeys the Word of God we heard in the second reading today.
That is, he does “nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory.”
Rather, he humbly regards “others as more important than” himself, “looking out not for his own interests, but ... for those of others.”
“Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” ... AND to “complete my joy.”