Jesus called John the greatest of all who preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John …. “
But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “Yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He announced the coming of the Kingdom, and called everyone to a fundamental reformation of life. His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John was not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).
John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Savior. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3: 14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic.
The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself-both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.
While in prison, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (chapters 49 through 53). John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.
“And this is not something which was only true once, long ago in the past. It is always true, because the repentance which he preached always remains the way into the kingdom which he announced. He is not a figure that we can forget now that Jesus, the true light, has appeared. John is always relevant because be calls for a preparation which all men need to make. Hence every year there are four weeks in the life of the Church in which it listens to the voice of the Baptist. These are the weeks of Advent” (A New Catechism).