THE LAST PERSON ANYONE WOULD PICK
It was fourth grade. I was in Gym class and we were playing baseball. Our teacher, Mr. Hanson, picked two kids - Frankie and John, both of whom were Little League All Stars - to be the 'coaches' and asked them to pick, from the rest of the class, the members of their teams (I’m sure this scenario isn't unique just to those of us that went to Frank K. Hehnly Elementary School); and, so, you can imagine, the drama began.
Of all the people that were 'chosen' to make up teams, the real drama was for two groups of people: those who were picked first - and for those who were picked last. For the 'coach', this selection process is important - does he go with friendship and pick one of his closest, best friends? Or will his competitive nature win out, with him picking one of the best, fastest or all-around top athletes, regardless of friendship or loyalty?
In the cut-throat world of elementary sports, those two moguls of the sports world went with the best. Frankie picked Joe - probably one of the best Little League pitchers - and John, well, he went with Tom, who even in 4th grade was a huge kid who could connect for some monster hits (now that I think about him, I wonder where he is right now). As the baseball draft continued, the anxiety level rose. My anxiety level rose. Standing on that gymnasium floor, watching as each pick was being made, after a little while I stopped hoping I'd be on the team with the most number of my friends on it and simply had one hope, one wish – that I wouldn't be the last person picked.
Now, being chubby, out of shape and painfully un-athletic (oh, my brothers could tell you stories - painfully embarrassing, but highly entertaining stories about how un-athletic I was - for example, one time I did sit down in the outfield and start picking grass), THE POINT IS I can look back now and, reasonably, I really shouldn’t be surprised that I was the last kid to be picked. 29 years later and after some therapy, those wounds have healed - I have made peace with that, and in fact, I can even understand it.
If you want to win, if you want to be the best; you look for the best; you pick the best. And so as all line-up picks go - you start with those who would seem to be the All-Stars, the future Hall-of-Famers. As you finish making your selections, you try to limit your damages as best you can when you’re looking at the last person anyone would pick.
Today’s Gospel is interesting because it seems to turn this playground principle on its head - we see the reverse of that happening here. God has something important to tell the entire world. Something, no rather, Someone big is coming. Remember this is way before Twitter, Facebook or the internet.
So, how is God going to get His message out? In the passage we hear from St. Luke today, it begins by recounting a couple of names that will be familiar (or rather infamous) - Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. Yeah - those guys - the same ones who will figure prominently in Jesus’ passion and death.
Knowing the story as we do, it's understandable that they might not be high on our list of favorites. But if you’re God and you've got something, Someone important to share you have very important information that you want to get out to the greatest number of people - we can’t just dismiss these people. Because these were the political and religious leaders of their day.
They commanded power, and had authority over their people. They wielded major influence. It might have been a difficult decision, which one to choose – the religious or the political leader? But, again, this is God, so couldn’t He use both? In any event, one of these leaders (or a combination of them) would seem to be a logical choice, would seem to make the most sense.
Yet, Luke paints this scene where we hear that of all those who might have been considered the best 'players' to chose, the best options for success were ignored and, instead, Luke says very beautifully that the word of God came to John . . . in the desert. Definitely the last place you would think of to broadcast a message of universal and eternal importance. Surprisingly, the word of God came to the last person anyone would pick, Zechariah's loony son, living off of locusts and honey in the boondocks.
God seemed to know what he was doing (surprised?). All those other leaders, who knows, maybe they would have tried to use God to advance their own agendas. Maybe God had tried, but found they were too preoccupied with themselves, and with what they thought was essential, to busy themselves with Him.
John had nothing. And, because of that, John proved to be a perfect messenger announcing the coming of Jesus to a world that desperately needed Him then (desperately needs Him now) a world waiting for its own salvation, but not prepared to receive it. John, despite his lack of power, authority, position or influence, despite his austere surroundings, He was open to the Word of God. He received it and was consumed by it to the point that he would spend the rest of his life bearing witness to the fact that GOD IS COMING TO HIS PEOPLE, and telling anyone and everyone who would hear him, PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD.
Luke's story is more than just a retelling of a historical episode. The Word of God is still alive. The Word of God is still active. The Word of God is coming to us right here, right now looking for us to announce to a world that desperately needs him, that Jesus Christ still comes to us. The Word of God comes to us to proclaim to the world to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD. And as I say those words, I can already see people putting up walls; “Yeah, not to me,” “Oh, I hope he’s not talking to me,” “Does this mean I’m going to have to join a committee or something?” or even things like, “I’m not worthy,” “I’m not holy enough,” “There are other people who are better qualified, better speakers, better people," "God certainly doesn't want me."
John the Baptist shakes us up and tells us to GET OVER OURSELVES. Our sins are not that original (and definitely not unforgivable - John’s cousin Jesus will prove that). What is more important? What could we be too busy doing that this call isn’t consuming us, like it consumed John?
Valleys can be filled in, mountains can be leveled at the command of The Word of God - nothing can stop His coming to us - except ourselves - our being closed to His word. our being closed to His Action and His Love, here and now.
The Word of God came to John. The Word of God is coming to me and to you, for a reason. Can we stop looking at our faults, at our imperfections, at our 'unworthiness' and, instead, see our value in the Eyes of God? Can we stop seeing ourselves as 'the last person that anyone would pick'?
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern