What have you to say about yourself
A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" he not only declared, but declared quite openly, "I am not the Christ." "Well then," they asked "are you Elijah?" "I am not" he said. "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." So they said to him, "Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?" So John said, "I am, as Isaiah prophesied: a voice that cries in the wilderness: 'Make a straight way for the Lord.'"
Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, "Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?" John replied, "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."
John 1:6-7, 19-27
What have you to say about yourself? You might answer immediately. ‘I have nothing to say about myself.’ But that is not true. We all have something to say about ourselves. In fact, we have a lot of things to say about ourselves. We might need time to find the words.
John the Baptist had an answer. I invite you to look at his answer; it may help you to find your own answer. Yours may be a little like his, and that may surprise you.
What we are and what we are not
First of all, John was wise enough to know what he was not, and he was humble enough to say so. He said that he was not the Messiah, he was not Elijah or one of the prophets, he was not worthy to undo the sandal strap of the one coming after him. He did not pretend to be what he was not. It did not bother him that he was not one of these great people.
But he knew what he was: “I am a voice crying out confidently in the wilderness, ‘Make a straight way for the Lord.’” It is wonderful to be humble enough to say what we are not, and to be confident enough to say what we are. When Jack Charleton was manager of the Irish soccer team he attended a dinner given in his honour in New York. In the after-dinner speeches he was highly praised. In replying he said, ‘I am not a star. You put me under pressure when you treat me like one. I’m a miner’s son from the north of England. I’m good at my job and I enjoy it.’ He knew what he was and he knew what he was not.
I come back to the question, What do you have to say about yourself? In answering you may begin, like John the Baptist, by saying what you are not. If people exaggerate what you achieved in the past or what you are capable of doing in the present, or if they attribute good qualities to you that you know you do not have, you might choose to correct them. That would leave you free – free from having to pretend, and free from the struggle to measure up to the unrealistic expectations of others.
Making a straight way
If you choose then to say who you are and what you are doing with your life, what would you say? John the Baptist told the people what they needed to do, ‘Make a straight way for the Lord.’ That phrase described what John himself was doing, and it may describe what you are doing with your life too. If you are a parent, you may say: ‘I try to make a straight way for my children: I provide for them, I encourage them, I give them the best opportunities that I can for their future; I show them the right way and I pass on the faith to them. I am far from perfect but as a parent, I do try to make a straight way for the Lord.
As you look at your working life, you may be able to say, ‘I have tried to do an honest day’s work, I pay my taxes, and the work itself is a service to others. I do my little bit to make the world a better place. So I can say, I make a straight way for the Lord.’
You may find that you try to make a straight way for the Lord within your own self also through your prayer and worship, your reception of the sacraments, and through your readiness to forgive and to ask to be forgiven.
In all of this you know you are not on your own. There are countless people across the world who bring relief to those who suffer, who work for justice, who cherish every human life from conception onward. These good people – each in his or her own unique way prepares a straight way for the Lord.
Prayer: Psalm 119: 26-32
I declared my ways and you answered;
teach me your statutes.
Make me grasp the way of your precepts
and I will muse on your wonders.
Keep me from the way of error
and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of truth
with your decrees before me.
I bind myself to do your will;
Lord, do not disappoint me.
I will run the way of your commands;
you give freedom to my heart.