John and Jesus are similar and yet so different. Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. The Gospels picture John as the forerunner of Jesus, sent to prepare the way. In today’s second reading, St. Paul, preaching in the synagogue of Antioch, describes this preparation: “John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” Paul goes on to bring out John’s humility: “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.” John’s call and mission was one of humble preparation.
While John and Jesus were similar, their preaching was very different. John preached “fire and brimstone,” the coming wrath of God: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath… Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7, 10).
Jesus’ mission and preaching were different, He welcomed tax collectors and sinners. Jesus preaches not the coming wrath of God but the coming mercy, compassion, and love of God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17).
Like John, we must also recognize that we are not the Messiah, our call and mission is to prepare the way for the Lord. Our preaching and message must be that of Jesus, not wrath and condemnation but love, mercy, and forgiveness.