Friday, December 29, 2017

Jesus the God-like Smarty Pants

Now every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. Luke 2:41-52

“Well, hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike smarty pants.”

The retort is from the 1992 epic The Muppets Christmas Carol when Rizzo the Rat reacts to Gonzo Charles Dickens’ explanation of the omniscience of authors. But it also works for Jesus and the elders.

For many of us, the story of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple reminds us how we reacted to it when we were 12. We hated him.

For us mature readers, the scene can be quite disarming. Here’s a callow kid standing among the great scholars of Jerusalem, preparing for his Bar Mitzvah by out-quoting and out-exegeting the old graybeards. It’s enough to make any parent’s heart swell with pride. If Jesus had attended one of Port Chester’s elementary schools, they would have skipped him a grade or two ahead of his peers.

Which is exactly what we didn’t like about this kid when we were 12. We knew the type. There was always the kid who spoke better Spanish than the Spanish teacher, corrected the math teacher’s calculations, knew the date of Columbus’ second voyage, and reminded the history teacher when she forgot to assign homework. We hated that kid.

And look how the smug prodigy treated his mom, who was in a teary panic after searching for him for hours among the teeming Passover crowds. “Why have you treated us like this?” she demands, and the kid responds with dismissive condescension. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I’d be in my father’s house?”

Well, hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike smarty pans. If Jesus’ mother has been Cuban, mi esposa cubana once observed, the outline of her hand would still be visible on the cheek of Salman’s Head of Christ.

Perhaps so, but the episode described in Luke raises some disturbing questions.

First, the fact that Joseph and Mary searched for their child with “great anxiety” suggests children ended up missing in Roman occupied Palestine just as they do now, and their possible fate was too terrible to imagine. There is evidence that pedophilia was practiced openly in Greco-Roman culture and unattended children in large crowds would have been likely targets. Child slavery was a component of economic life in the era, and a child wandering the streets may have been a tempting acquisition for merchants seeking free labor.

Mary and Joseph would also have horrifying memories of the Slaughter of the Innocents, a disaster they knew was driven by the birth of their own son. King Herod sought to eliminate a threat to his throne by the Messiah reported born in Bethlehem and ordered the murder of every baby boy younger than two
A voice was heard in Ramah,Wailing and loud lamentation,Rachel weeping for her children, 
She refused to be consoled, 
Because they are no more. (Matthew 2:18)
The Feast Day commemorating the massacre of innocent children is observed the last week in December in many Christian churches, most often on December 28. It remains a terrible reminder that, even after God intervened in human history to redeem the world, human parents continue to suffer the unbearable and inexplicable loss of their children. And Mary knew this full well as she searched for her missing child with rising panic.

Second, we see that Mary, who earlier had exulted that “the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:49), is also capable of profoundly human doubts. 

She is probably in her early twenties as she searches the streets of Jerusalem for her beloved boy, and she has seen so much in her brief life. The angel of God came to her in the earliest days of her pubescence, perhaps even before she experienced the first stirrings of sexual awakening, and told her she was pregnant. 

The pregnancy, the angel said, was of God. And then miracles descended upon miracles: her fiancĂ© Joseph, who had never touched her, accepted the story and married her. The neighbors, who must have done the same calculations we do when a young women becomes pregnant ahead of schedule, did not shun her or stone her. Angels, shepherds and, later, eastern mystics gathered around her as she gave birth to her son and she could hear the chorus in the spheres: 
Glory to God in the highest heavenAnd on earth peace among those he favors. (Luke 2:14)
God made it clear to Mary that she was surrounded by grace and marvels, but as she searches the crowded streets with no sign of her son, she doubts. It beggars reason that God would have brought her this far to snatch all the miracles away, but still she panics. In frightening times like these, the words of old Simeon echo in her head:
“This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
Searching in vain for her son, Mary may have asked herself: is the opposition winning? Is this the time when my soul will be pierced like a sword? Despite her best efforts to hold on to the messages of the angels, Mary is tormented by doubts. And the doubts won’t go away until her darling boy is back in her arms.

Third, we see that Jesus, the “best little boy in the world,” is capable of thoughtlessness bordering on cruelty. 

Jesus knows very well that his parents are probably looking for him, but the adoration they heap upon him is becoming old yarmulke. Wandering into the temple, the boy discovers a new crowd of admirers: old guys who warm to his youthful charms and coo at his precociousness. Luke offers few details what Jesus said to attract this unbridled approbation, only that “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and answers” (Luke 2:47). Possibly the boy was intoxicated by the esteem of temple insiders whose education and intellect outclassed his working parents. 

Okay, he was a smart kid. But the incarnate deity at 12 was a few years short of a fully developed cerebral cortex. And he didn’t stop to think that his parents might be searching for him “in great anxiety.” 

When his mother finally discovered him in the temple, Jesus’ dismissed her pain with pre-pubescent carelessness: 

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke seems to approve of this response, which to our ears would sound rude if it were uttered by anyone besides God’s Son. 

“But they did not understand what he said to them,” Luke explains, which was certainly true. The boy had been missing all day and now he was ignoring their anxiety. What parent would understand that? Happily, Luke reassures us this was only a temporary lapse, and soon “he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Clearly, it was hard to dislike this kid.

Fourth, the anxiety of Mary and Joseph when they couldn’t find the boy Jesus suggests they understood a profound theological truth:

God, who counts the very hairs of our head, chooses not to have a say when those hairs turn gray or when they will fall out.

God does not control the caprices of our nature or the quirks of human impulses. 

God does not control evil kings or mad gunmen or megalomaniacal dictators or hateful terrorists or bullies or greedy entrepreneurs or oppositional adolescents. God merely brings us together in the context of God’s love and watches to see if we will embrace it or turn our backs. 

God has placed us on this planet with free will to do as we please. We are free to follow God’s commandments or reject them. We are free to love God or reject God.

It seems strange at first that God would choose to give us this much freedom – that the Creator of the universe whose casual utterance brought the stars, the suns, and planets into being – would not use that power to compel our love for God.

But as human oligarchs and despots have discovered over long centuries, love cannot be compelled. Love must be voluntary or it is meaningless. If God had forced us to love God, we would have been as companionable as vacuous blow-up dolls with outstretched limbs and open mouths. 

But when humans choose of their own free will to love God, the connection to the God of love is completed with a power beyond understanding, and the love goes both ways. 

Fifth, God does not send us into the world with a script we must follow or a score with notes we are forced to sing.

God sends us into the world with a simple set of instructions: Love God, and love one another. 

If we choose to do that, it is a beautiful thing and our relationship with God and one another assumes an intimacy and a joy that cannot be surpassed. And the true meaning of our lives on this planet becomes clear to us.

If we choose not to do that, we are faced with a harsher reality. One unknown theologian put it this way: life sucks, and then you die.

At this time in the liturgical year, between Christmas and Epiphany, it’s a little frightening to remember that God didn’t give Jesus a script or a score to follow either. 

Jesus was born with the same free will that was bestowed on all God’s creatures.

That may have been one of the reasons Mary and Joseph were in a state of great anxiety as they searched for Jesus in the crowded streets. There was no guarantee that Jesus would choose of his own free will to grow in divine and human favor and accept the bitter mantle of messiahship. 

That wasn’t up to Mary or Joseph, and God wasn’t going to force the issue. It was entirely up to Jesus.

The abundant grace of God that is available to us all is due to the fact that Jesus chose to be faithful to God’s will. God set in motion a plan for the salvation of humanity, and Jesus chose to do God’s will. 

God has also set our own lives in motion, filled with possibilities and potentialities that may or may not be fulfilled.

The choices are always ours.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Power of Dreams

I can see it now, as vividly as if it were yesterday.

My mother is taking my baby brother Larry and me on a morning walk around Morrisville. Larry is in a stroller. I’m 3 years old and walking beside Mommy and Larry. We cross Main Street and turn left on Mill Street. We pause in front of a telephone pole while Mommy leans over the stroller to re-button Larry’s shirt. I point to the looming pole.

“Remember,” I ask, “when I climbed to the top?” Mommy stands and smiles.


“But you were right here,” I insisted.

“I wasn’t.”

“You were!”

Mommy sighed and we began walking again. End of conversation.

But I did climb the pole! I remember it so well. And Mommy was there and Larry was there … 

It was, of course, a dream. The walk with Mommy and Larry happened every day, and at one point during nap time I dreamed I had climbed the familiar telephone pole.

And what a powerful dream it was. Even now, 35 years after my mother’s death, the memory of this dream invokes the clearest image I have of her as a pretty young woman. But at 3, I hadn’t sorted out the difference between dream memories and real memories. 

The psychiatrist C.G. Jung raises the question of whether we ever really sort it out. Dreams, Jung said, are windows between our conscious reality and our unconscious spirituality.

“The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul,” Jung wrote in The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man (1933).  Our daily waking experiences overwhelm our ability to remember everything, so we remember some, forget others and lose track of everything else that has happened to us. “But in dreams,” Jung said, “we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man … there he is still in the whole, and the whole is in him … It is from these all-uniting depths that the dream arises, be it never so childish, grotesque, and immoral.” 

Dreams, Jung believed, are spiritual glimpses into memories our brains have forgotten but our souls retain forever.  

But Jung cautioned those who would interpret dreams that these glimpses are not always understandable. “The dream is often occupied with apparently very silly details,” he wrote in On the Psychology of the Unconscious (1953), “this producing an impression of absurdity, or … so unintelligible as to leave us thoroughly bewildered.”

About 15 years ago I had a dream that was remarkable in its length, plot, color, detail, and unintelligibility – and remarkable in that I have retained so much of it over so many years.

I’m in the large reception hall of a great house. The floor is marble, the dark wood walls are elegantly polished, and a vast staircase spirals upwards toward a dim yellow light. As I watch passively, several two-dimensional heralds who look like fugitives from a stained-glass window enter from the right, their glass feet clicking against the marble floor. The heralds trill their trumpets shrilly and begin to march up the staircase. Pope John Paul II enters from the right and follows the heralds upstairs. The Pope looks harried and tired as he makes his way up the steps. He is surrounded by hundreds of people of all races and ages, chirping in cacophonic unison.  Some are in modern dress, others wear medieval rags, some are adorned with armor, and still others look like cartoons and computer-generated grotesqueries. Their noise intensifies as they process up the stairs. The Pope turns to look at me. He shakes his head and shrugs. As he continues up the staircase, I notice he is wearing black pumps with two-inch heels.
What the heck was that all about? Was I receiving a divine revelation about Saint John Paul II, perhaps a message from on high that the church needs to welcome and affirm all God’s people? Or was it silly nonsense, “producing an impression of absurdity”?

Beats me. Jung said he could not interpret his own dreams, and he pointed out in Psychology and Religion (1938) that the church was reluctant to interpret random dreams. “In spite of the Church's recognition that certain dreams are sent by God,” Jung noted, “she is disinclined, and even averse, to any serious concern with dreams, while admitting that some might conceivably contain an immediate revelation.”

Dreams play a profoundly dramatic role in many biblical narratives, so the church has to take them seriously.  Remember an earlier Joseph whose dreams were both prescient and dangerous: 

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. (Genesis 37:5-8) 
And who could blame the beleaguered brothers for hating him? Joseph’s dream is clearly a divine revelation about the future. Perhaps he would have been better off if he hadn’t mentioned it to his brothers, but then, he had to be stupid enough to brag about it in order for to fulfill God’s metaphors.

In the case of Joseph, the betrothed of Mary, the dreams are vivid messages from God and require prudent action.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall name him Emmanuel’,which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25.
That’s a remarkable turn of events: Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.

Thank God Sigmund Freud would not be born for another 1,856 years, because that could have been disastrous. Freud, unlike Jung, believed dreams had no spiritual import but were either erotic in nature or expressions of wish fulfillment. You know. Sex.

How would Dr. Freud have counseled this hurt, confused young man?

“Joseph, my boy, you will never set your anger aside if you don’t face it honestly. You have been a good boy, you have never laid hands on this women who has been betrothed to you. And yet she is with child! Sure, you’ve been cuckolded. Sure, you’re hurt. Sure, you’re angry. But this dream of yours – forget it! This dream is only your wish that you and Mary could go back to where you were, that nothing would have changed, that you can still possess this woman and make righteous, innocent love to her. But hoping for that and dreaming about it will not make it so. Forget about it.”

Freud would have gone on to advise Joseph that sex is a fundamental human drive and he needed to understand that if he wanted to start all over again. But no one thought like that when Mary found herself with child. What people thought was written down in the Bible:

“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress will be put to death,” says Leviticus 20:10, among other verses. 

Maybe Joseph was thinking, hey, the adulterer was probably a Roman bastard and maybe Mary didn’t have a choice. So – what the hell – I’ll just throw the girl out and get on with my life.”

But then Joseph closed his eyes and had a dream. And, there being no Dr. Freud to confuse him, the dream had a profound impact on his thinking and on the history of the world. He went to bed a cuckold. He woke up the stepfather of God’s son. 

That’s one hell of a flip flop. One commentary suggests Joseph’s dream is the first recorded example of post-hypnotic suggestion. The Star Wars generation will see evidence of a Jedi master manipulating the conscious mind:

Obi-Wan: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

Storm Trooper: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.
Obi-Wan: He can go about his business.
Storm Trooper: He can go about his business …

But the truth is, we know Joseph better than that. We know he is not a weak-minded wood worker subject to mere hypnotic suggestion. He is a good and righteous man. He’s the sort of man who recognizes God’s voice when he hears it, even if it comes in a dream. And he’s the sort of man whose personality is strong enough to withstand the withering stares and judgmental gossip of prying neighbors. His wife is pregnant with God’s son, and Joseph makes a moral decision not to care what anyone else thinks. His message to the neighbors is a brass-age rendition of a modern bumper stocker:  God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

What an extraordinary  man, this Joseph. His is a story we hear so often we have stopped wondering what it must have been like for him. He was the oldest son of Jacob, the scion on a patriarchal lineage extending back to King David, a man who grew up expecting to be the unchallenged head of his household. It is remarkable, radical even, that Joseph was able to step back from all that and assume one of history’s best known second banana roles.

Joseph was one of history’s most notable dreamers, a practical man who predated Jung by two millennia but who understood that dreams are windows to the soul. Once Joseph heard God’s message in the stillness of the night, he set a new path and never looked back.

Granted, not all of us have dreams that are as easy to understand as the ones that were visited upon Joseph. And most of us have had dreams that are, as Jung said, unintelligible and occupied with silly details.

But that does not diminish the possibility that our dreams are spiritual experiences, and that they come laden with messages from that part of our unconscious where God speaks to us. 

The next dream you have may be perplexing, confusing and beyond your comprehension. But it can also be an opportunity to reflect on the power of Joseph’s dream, and to embrace all such REM experiences as a potential blessing.

Perry Como put it this way:

Dream along with me, I'm on my way to a star Come along, come along, leave your worries where they are Up and beyond the sky, watchin' the world roll by Sharin' a kiss, a sigh, just use your imagination! On a cloud of love, we'll hear the music of night We can wink at the moon as we hold each other tight And if we go in the right direction, heaven can't be very far Dream along with me, I'm on my way to a star! We can wink at the moon as we hold each other tight . . .  And if we go in the right direction, heaven can't be very far Dream along with me, I'm on my way to a star!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Second Bananas and Comical Sidekicks

Mark 1:1-8

Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

John the Baptist is the greatest second banana in history.

We know from practical experience that second bananas are not always content with (to expand the metaphor) their second fiddle fare, nor are they enamored with those who cast the shadows in which they walk.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda has reminded us, Aaron Burr was so outraged by Alexander Hamilton’s obvious superiority that he became “the damn fool who shot him.”

Vice President Thomas Jefferson smiled sardonically as his followers accused President John Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Jefferson may not have used the words, but he could have said, “I’m Thomas Jefferson and I approve this message.”

During the Second World War, British Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery dismissed his superior, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, with four words: “Nice chap, no soldier.” More than once, Monty tried to take over Eisenhower’s job as allied field commander in Europe.

Vice President Harry S Truman described his boss, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as “the coldest man I ever knew,” and “a faker.”

Vice President Richard Nixon, who owed everything to President Eisenhower, called Ike “devious,” although he added a Nixonian qualification that he meant the word in its “best sense.” 

Vice President Lyndon Johnson hid his contempt for President John F. Kennedy, whom he regarded as a callow playboy who was physically not up to the job. According to his biographer Robert Caro, LBJ would put his thumb and forefinger together to demonstrate the circumference of JFK’s ankle, suggesting Kennedy was neither physically nor temperamentally fit for power.

Historically, Second Bananas had a bad habit of knocking First Bananas off their pedestals. In England, Prince Stephen usurped the throne from Queen Matilda in 1135; Henry IV from Richard II in 1399; Edward IV from Henry VI in 1461; Richard III from Edward V in 1483; Henry VII from Richard III in 1485; Mary I from the legally designated Queen Jane in 1553; and William III and Mary II from James II in 1689.

In fact, virtually every empire and geopolitical entity in the world has had its usurpers. Second Bananaship inevitably fuels a drive to the top job.

Church historians and cynical observers have wondered if John the Baptist was content with the role. Did he, in fact, actually think of himself as a Second Banana?

The biblical and historic record suggests he was an extraordinarily gifted man with a magnetic personality who attracted thousands to his watery warren in the Jordan River and acknowledged no authority but God’s. He had innumerable disciples who followed him faithfully.

John’s father, Zechariah, foresaw a starring role for the boy:
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79)

Later, Luke introduces John with historical precision, marking for posterity the time and place he first appeared:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:1-6)
 If there was ever a religious or political leader qualified to think of himself as number one, it was John the Baptist. He is one of a small handful of bible characters who appear in extra-biblical accounts. He is mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus and he plays a prophetic role in the Qur’an. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, Yahya ibn Zakkariya, Sufi Muslims hold John in high regard because of the Qur’an’s account of his astute wisdom, unfailing kindness, and sexual purity.

John’s significance as a prophet and first century evangelist has led some scholars to theorize his Second-Banana-to-Jesus status was an after thought made up by uneasy Christians seeking a credible cover story. The fact that Jesus was among several thousand who came to John for baptism suggests to some – including scholars who work so hard to destroy the faith of innocent seminarians – that Jesus initially thought of himself as a disciple of John. All the prophetic references casting John in the role of the “voice crying in the wilderness” to prepare the way for the Messiah came later, these cynics say, to explain why Jesus was baptized by John, a mere Second Banana. 

There is even biblical support for the notion that John was never fully persuaded of Jesus’ messianic role: “He sent word by his disciples and said to (Jesus), ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

I think all this distrusting skepticism is understandable.

Most of us find it hard to respect Second Bananas, or to trust them to be loyal to the person at the top. History is too full of Second Bananas who were driven to push their bosses aside and snatch the power away.  

And the markedly loyal Second Bananas we know were hardly threats to the throne. I remember with fondness Andy Divine’s “Jingles” who rode with Guy Madison’s Wild Bill Hickock, or Gabby Hayes’ humorous subservience to Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy, or Leo Carrillo’s Pancho who rode with Duncan Reynaldo’s Cisco Kid, or – lest we forget – Ed McMahon who loyally laughed at Johnny Carson’s funniest – and weakest – ripostes. Possibly the purest current example of a loyal second banana is Vice President Mike Pence, although his obsequious obeisance to President Trump may be part of a wily scheme to position himself for the top job.

Ideally, Second Bananas should not threaten their bosses. And John the Baptist was no comical sidekick, so some scholars have had difficulty thinking of him as a number two.

The skepticism is understandable because it is so difficult to accept the logic of Jesus’ oxymoronic declaration: “So the last will be first and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)

Jesus also made it clear what happens to Second Bananas who seek to usurp power:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be first among you must also be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20: 25-28)
 Perhaps no one in history had a more important supporting role than John the Baptist:

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:1-6)
He was, by his own declaration, not the Messiah. His role was to prepare the way, to call people to repentance, to remind them of the preeminence of God in human lives, and to open their hearts and minds to the coming of Jesus.

That may be only a supporting role, but it’s a great one.

John the Baptist is no Messiah but neither is he a Second Banana. 

In the eyes of God and all who seek to emulate his role every day, his status in the divine hierarchy is clear.

John the Baptist is banana number one.